OTSUCHI, IWATE PREF. – Three candidates entered a delayed mayoral race in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, on Tuesday to fill the vacancy left by the death of Koki Kato in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster.
Yutaka Ikarigawa, 60, who headed the town’s general affairs division, former town assembly chief Daisaku Okamoto, 62, and Fumiichi Ogawa, 64, a resident of Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, who heads a Nagoya-based semipublic corporation, plan to run in Sunday’s election.
The town has lacked a leader since Kato became the only local government head to die in the disaster. The term of the vice mayor expired in June.
The three candidates, all running as independents, are expected to focus on ways to rebuild the town and protect it from future disasters. Otsuchi was almost completely washed away by the massive tsunami.
Okamoto told a crowd of some 60 in a residential area that he wants to rebuild the town and make streets that lead to hills so people will have a better chance to escape if tsunami hit again.
Ikarigawa meanwhile told some 100 people: “This election is the first step toward reconstruction. I want to carry out rebuilding plans as soon as possible.”
A 65-year-old woman who lost her husband in the disaster and now lives alone in a temporary housing unit said she feels lonely after her ties with the community were severed by the disaster.
“I want to cast my vote for a candidate who can build a town where old people can live comfortably,” she said.
As of Monday the town had 11,841 eligible voters, down by about 1,600 from before March 11. Roughly 1,400 residents died or remain missing and 486 have moved away, according to local election board officials.
Six of the town’s 15 ballot stations were swept away in the tsunami, but four new places have been established and two stations were combined to cover new areas.
The race had been slated to be part of nationwide elections in April, but under a special law it was put off due to the disaster.