37,000 tsunami-damaged vehicles stuck in limbo


More than 37,000 vehicles damaged in last year’s tsunami are still being kept in temporary storage by municipalities in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures.

Disposing of the vehicles is expected to take a long time.

Many owners remain unknown because license plates and other forms of identification were lost, while auctioning off unclaimed vehicles is a lengthy process.

Thirteen months after the tsunami caused by the March 11 magnitude 9.0 quake devastated the northeast and ignited the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the land used as storage space in the prefectures remains filled with piled-up vehicles.

The number of cars was determined through telephone interviews early this month with officials of 27 municipalities in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures along the Pacific coast as well as officials in the prefectural governments. Data on Fukushima, which were obtained from the Fukushima Prefectural Government, cover the city of Iwaki and four other municipalities on the Pacific coast.

The Automobile Recycling Law stipulates that local governments must obtain the consent of owners to scrap damaged vehicles. Consequently, the governments are trying to use license plates or registration documents to identify the owners.

If the governments are unable to contact the owners, the vehicles are handed over to scrap operators three months after public notices are affixed giving notice the vehicles will be disposed of.

In Iwate, about 3,200 vehicles remain in temporary storage, while about 32,000 are in storage in Miyagi and about 2,400 in Fukushima, according to the officials.

Ishinomaki, Iwate Prefecture, is saddled with about 13,000 such vehicles, the most among the municipalities surveyed, partly because much of the city’s urban district was washed out by the tsunami.

With the vehicles kept at 10 different locations, an Ishinomaki official said that “it will take more than a year to dispose of them.”

An official at a municipality in Miyagi that has managed to dispose of all vehicles damaged in the tsunami said it probably took less time there because of topographical factors.

“Municipalities with a lot of flat land may have found it easier to find owners because, while the vehicles may have been flooded, they were not damaged severely,” the official said.