MINAMISANRIKU, Miyagi Pref. (Kyodo) The town office of Minamisanriku, one of the Pacific coastal communities hardest hit by the massive tsunami spawned by the March 11 megaquake, sent off some 500 residents Sunday to other municipalities in Miyagi Prefecture as part of a collective evacuation.

About 1,100 of the some 9,400 residents of the town taking shelter at local facilities — more than half the town’s prequake population of 17,666 as of Feb. 28 — have so far accepted the exodus transport offer.

The town has urged hundreds of evacuees to collectively move to shelters outside the town because the living environments at the local facilities are “not very good.”

“We’d like (residents) to lead a healthy life at a second shelter,” Mayor Jin Sato said Thursday.

Those moving gathered first at the Beachside Arena, the biggest of the 45 shelters in the town, and departed in the afternoon for the cities of Tome, Kurihara and Osaki and the town of Kami, where the office has secured shelters for some 3,400 residents, officials said.

On Sunday , the mayor told the departing residents, “We will certainly come and get you back as quickly as possible.”

At Shizugawa Junior High School, which is accommodating more than 300 evacuees, a bus arrived shortly before 10 a.m. for the move, and more than a dozen people were seen off by other evacuees, who shouted out “Take care!” and “Good luck!” and other words of encouragement.

“This is my limit for living without water or electricity,” said Koichiro Ouchi, 75, who is to move to Kurihara with his wife, Fukuko. “I want to come back someday for sure and rebuild the town.”

“I’m not prepared,” the 77-year-old Fukuko said. “I’m full of worries as it (Kurihara) is a strange land for me.”

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