KUMAMOTO – Nearly a week after the first deadly earthquake hit central Kumamoto, concerns are rising that evacuees with disabilities or ailments are not getting the support they need.
“These people should be separated from the healthy ones, because a person with a cane cannot walk quickly enough to pick up rationed rice balls, for example,” said Tatsue Yamazaki, an associate professor of disaster nursing at Tokyo Medical University who inspected the disaster zone in Kumamoto over the weekend.
“Governments should create shelters for people with special needs, including the sick, people with disabilities and pregnant women,” she said. “The need for such shelters was intensively discussed after the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, but local government officials I talked with in Kumamoto had no idea that such shelters were needed.
“It was only after they were hit by the quake this time that they realized they should have prepared for the worst.”
Yamazaki added that many evacuation centers are packed with people, and municipal governments have turned schools and other buildings into ad-hoc evacuation centers. But because these facilities are not designated as official shelters, they don’t have access to relief goods, she said.
“People in such places bring food from their damaged homes, but there’s a limit to how long they can feed themselves like that.”
With tens of thousands of people remaining in evacuation centers, some municipalities have decided to build or are considering building temporary housing.
As of Wednesday, 8,784 houses and public facilities in Kumamoto were either completely or partially damaged. Combined with those in the surrounding prefectures of Fukuoka, Oita, Miyazaki and Nagasaki, the number stood at 9,144.
“Residents living in shelters are nearing their limit. We are now at a stage where we need to secure housing” for them, said Kumamoto Mayor Kazufumi Onishi at a disaster management meeting Wednesday.
Officials in the town of Mashiki, one of the most severely hit municipalities, said Wednesday that some 5,400 homes, about half of the nearly 11,000 houses in the town, were damaged, out of which 1,026 were destroyed completely. Officials in the village of Nishihara said some 1,400 houses there were damaged.
Although the officials have yet to decide the location or amount of temporary housing to be built, they said they are considering a sports ground as one possible location.
Meanwhile, most of the other disaster-hit municipalities, including the town of Mifune, the village of Minamiaso and the city of Aso, are still assessing the damage and have yet to decide on building temporary housing.
In prefectures other than Kumamoto, 226 buildings were reported damaged in Fukuoka, 41 in Oita, 14 in Miyazaki and one in Nagasaki.
Even nearly a week after the initial quake, the Meteorological Agency said it sees no signs of earthquake activity abating in Kumamoto and surrounding prefectures. It is urging people to remain alert.
As heavy rainfall of between 40 and 50 mm per hour is expected in Kumamoto and Oita prefectures on Thursday, the weather agency also warned of the escalating risk of landslides and flooding of rivers.
More than 600 seismic events ranging from minor jolts to strong earthquakes were detected by the agency in the region since the initial magnitude-6.5 quake on April 14, followed by a more powerful magnitude-7.3 quake on Saturday. It is the highest frequency of earthquakes on record, the agency said.
Rescuers said one body was found Wednesday morning at the site of a major mudslide in Minamiaso, Kumamoto Prefecture, pushing up the death toll to 48.
Aside from the 48 fatalities, 10 people have died in Kumamoto Prefecture from quake-related issues such as illness, stress and fatigue, the Kumamoto Prefectural Government said Wednesday.