HIGASHIMATSUSHIMA, Miyagi Pref. (Kyodo) Evacuees on an island in the Tohoku region disaster zone are still alive after being cut off from the mainland when their bridge collapsed, but only because they knew such a day would come.

The isolated residents, holed up in a school in a less-damaged part of Miyatojima Island in Miyagi Prefecture, take turns cooking rice and making rice balls with their famous seaweed in the spirit of survival.

“People on this island are very strong,” said Sanae Katahira, a 48-year-old nursery teacher at an elementary school on Honshu. The teacher spent five days on the island starting March 11, when the killer magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit the area and triggered a tsunami that washed away everything along the coastline, including the sole bridge linking Miyatojima to the mainland.

Around 900 people are thought to be camped out at the school on a hill, equipped with self-supplied rice, blankets from their houses and kerosene from the local gas station. They are mustering the strength to live by helping each other out and maintaining order.

The schoolyard is relatively unscathed, and helicopters bring in relief supplies and take sick people off the island. But Katahira said there are several elderly people who don’t have access to their medicines.

With the death toll rising and many people unaccounted for, relief supplies to evacuees are still in short supply, and the ongoing nuclear crisis in Fukushima Prefecture has exacerbated their worries.

“People are gradually feeling stress,” Katahira said. “But to me, it’s like people are going back to the old way, to the time they had to sustain themselves as islanders when isolated.”

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