Swiss help quake-hit hospital reopen


A hospital with an attached nursing home for the elderly that was severely damaged by the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11 last year in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, made a fresh start Sunday, after the facility was rebuilt with donations from Switzerland.

The only medical institution in the coastal town of about 8,300 people was refurbished at a cost of some ¥1.9 billion shouldered by the Swiss Red Cross. Seawater from the tsunami inundated the first floor of the four-story building, located on a hill 16 meters above sea level. Reports said the height of the wall of water reached almost 2 meters above ground level at the hospital.

The Onagawa Community Medical Center now has 19 beds for patients and 100 beds for the elderly residing in the nursing home section. The hospital, which was run by the town government at the time of the disaster, was privatized last October.

Onagawa Mayor Yoshiaki Suda, together with Swiss Ambassador Urs Bucher and other dignitaries, unveiled a plaque commemorating Swiss financial assistance to rebuild the medical center. During the ceremony Suda told reporters he expects the institution, which is located in the town center, “to play a central role in our reconstruction efforts.”

At the event to mark the rebirth of the hospital, the mayor expressed appreciation for the Swiss support. “We will never forget the goodwill shown by the Swiss people and will pass on our gratitude to future generations,” he said.

Bucher said the discipline and self-control shown by victims of the disaster made lasting impressions around the world.

“Let me assure you that you will not walk this way alone and that we will continue to support your path toward reconstruction,” Bucher said.

“I hope that my country’s modest contribution will not only play a useful role in the future life of Onagawa, but also create the basis for a long-standing friendship between the people of Onagawa and Switzerland,” he said.

Martin Fuhrer, head of the Swiss Red Cross’ international cooperation department, said Swiss citizens spontaneously made donations as images of the tsunami “motivated people emotionally to do something and to show solidarity to Japan and to its people.”

He said support for the facility serving the aging community made sense as many of the donors were elderly Swiss people.

Itsuko Hiratsuka, a 68-year-old resident of the nursing home, said she happened to be at the facility on March 11 last year to use the day-care center and has since been living in the building.

“As my house was swept away by the tsunami, I remained here. My living standards have improved with the reconstructed facility,” she said.