MINAMISOMA, FUKUSHIMA PREF. - For the first time in a year, residents of Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, were allowed to return to their homes after an evacuation order was lifted Monday for parts of their town, which was declared off-limits in the wake of the core meltdowns at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
Many houses around JR Odaka Station remain damaged. Beach sand carried by the tsunami on March 11, 2011, dusts the roads. Homes that once stood on the coast are gone while abandoned vehicles dot the farmland.
Among the residents busy cleaning their houses and shops was Takashi Shinkai, who felt helpless at the sight.
“There is nothing I can do,” the 74-year-old said.
Clogged with sand from the beach 3 km away, the sliding door to his fishing supply store was difficult to open. Fishing rods and lures were scattered around, and there apparently had been an intruder during his absence.
“Without water and electricity, residents may remain unable for the immediate future to return to this area to resume their lives,” he said.
Michio Matsudaira, 69, was unable to enter his house, which was knocked aslant by the earthquake.
“Many residents in this area are old. In the absence of jobs, my future is uncertain,” the former construction worker said.
Minamisoma has been redivided into three evacuation zones according to radiation level.
In the first zone, residents can come and go as they please, while in the second their visits are restricted. The third zone is expected to remain off-limits for the foreseeable future.
Despite the lifting of the evacuation order, residents are not expected to return for good anytime soon. Running water and other infrastructure have yet to be restored, while hospitals and schools remain closed.