Five years later, thoughts of 3/11 continue to overwhelm survivors, survey finds

Kyodo

As the fifth anniversary of the March 2011 Tohoku disasters approaches, a survey shows that more than 70 percent of people in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures remain overwhelmed when recalling the days just after the massive earthquake and tsunami.

The questionnaire, conducted by Kyodo News in December and released Sunday, covered 300 people — 100 from each prefecture — in one-on-one interviews. All lived in coastal areas that were engulfed by tsunami and now live in either temporary or public housing for disaster victims or have rebuilt their homes.

Asked if it still hurts to recall the days after the disasters, 26.3 percent, or 79 people, said it frequently does, while 46.3 percent said it is sometimes painful.

The combined 72.6 percent shows that nearly five years on, many people are still struggling to move on from the deadly disasters.

Of those who answered affirmatively, 47.3 percent said that the loss of loved ones, including family and friends, hurts the most.

Some noted sleeping disorders stemming from the disasters, while others — including some whose entire families were wiped out in the catastrophe — said they continue to be plagued by survivor guilt.

“I lost my two older sisters and other relatives,” said Shizuo Motoki, 75, who was living in the town of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, when the disasters hit. “It still hurts.”

Another 44 percent said seeing their homes and assets destroyed dealt them a heavy financial blow, while 42.7 percent said the memory of their hometown being hit by the twin disasters continues to haunt them.

“I watched people and houses washed away by a tsunami wave that was moving about 30 km per hour,” said Toshio Kikuchi, 66, who said he still has nightmares about that day.

“That trauma is still with me,” he said.

An 82-year-old woman from the town of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, said she still recalls with dread being swept away by the waves and ending up trapped under rubble.

For a smaller percentage, 12.8 percent of the respondents, not being able to return to their hometowns after the catastrophe at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant remains a harsh reality.

A 74-year-old man from Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, recalled the hardship of having to evacuate multiple times.

“There was an explosion and the air trembled,” recalled a woman, 77, who lived in the town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture. “Since then, I don’t feel like going back to Namie.”

According to Hiroaki Tomita, a professor of disaster psychiatry at Tohoku University, recalling traumatic experiences can also be a way of overcoming them and moving on.

“We need to check closely on people who aren’t able to discuss these thoughts with anyone and who are seeing their health and daily lives affected by this,” Tomita said.