At shelters in western Japan, medical workers keep close eye on thousands of evacuees

Kyodo, JIJI

Medical workers have been routinely checking on the condition of evacuees in shelters as concerns grow over the health of those who escaped from the hardest-hit areas of the recent heavy rains in western Japan.

Particularly alarming for public health teams is the fact that some evacuees are sleeping in their cars.

As of 8 p.m. Wednesday, 4,700 people were staying in evacuation centers set up in 16 affected prefectures, making health management a major problem.

At one shelter set up at a local elementary school in the Mabicho district of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, which was devastated by the disaster, doctors and nurses are on duty 24 hours a day in order to examine the health conditions of the more than 300 evacuees staying there. They regularly have consultations during the evening with evacuees who have been out during the day to engage in recovery efforts.

At 8 p.m. Tuesday, Yuko Urabe, a 35-year-old doctor, began checking on evacuees together with pharmacists and other staff.

A 75-year-old man received treatment for a large bruise on his foot. He told the health team that, because of memory loss stemming from the scorching heart, he doesn’t remember when he suffered the injury. The man had earlier worked to clear up the remains of his house, which was totally destroyed by the disaster.

In chatting with Mitsutoshi Mikamoto, 88, the health team found out that he has been fitted with a pacemaker. The discovery was made when documents were found in the same plastic case where he kept a photo of he and wife on their 50th wedding anniversary.

“We try to get information on diseases or medication while casually talking with people so they don’t feel stressed,” nurse Namiko Ishizaki said.

Near the shelter, some people were found to be sleeping with their pets in cars in order to avoid any friction with other evacuees.

Yasunobu Iuchi, 41, said he began to sleep in his car because some people were bothered by droppings from his pet parrot. “It’s tiring (to sleep here) but I have to be mindful of others,” he said.

Urabe admitted the medical team can only provide limited care in the shelter and it is vital to forward information on the evacuees’ conditions to local medical institutions as recovery work progresses in the area.

The district’s Mabi Memorial Hospital, which was inundated by the heavy rains, resumed services Wednesday with a mobile clinic in which doctors examined patients with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and heart ailments.

Separately, Keiji Mimura, 74, the chief of a local clinic, restarted operations out of a tent near the clinic Sunday, less than 10 days after the disaster, after his institution was engulfed by mud and water. The doctor has worked in the community for more than 20 years.

In Hiroshima Prefecture, health team members — chiefly public health nurses — are meeting with evacuees in shelters and residents still living in damaged houses. The nurses’ primary tasks are to listen carefully to what they say about their health, check on the progress of cleaning work and counsel them on problems affecting their daily lives.

On Sunday, a group of about 10 nurses at a meeting in the city of Takehara heard a report of an elderly person who returned home from an evacuation center and found that mud had flowed into the house. The team decided to dispatch volunteers to help clean up the house.

“We focus on visiting residents with chronic diseases and older people who don’t usually use welfare services whose conditions are not known,” said Sachie Nozawa, 48, a public health center nurse.

The nurses are also taking care of pregnant women and families with preschool children.

At the meeting, information was shared on the relationships between evacuees and the conditions of sick people.

The team also includes health nurses from other prefectures.

Satomi Kawakami, a 55-year-old nurse who has used lessons learned from her experience in 2015 with a similar type of disaster in eastern and northeastern parts of the country, was dispatched by the Ibaraki Prefectural Government. She expressed her concern about health management and mental care due to the lengthy time people are forced to live as evacuees.

“Residents are positive and working very hard,” said Michiko Sano, 52, a nurse with the Niigata Municipal Government. Pointing to heatstroke and infection risks due to the heat wave, Sano said, “We actively talk to residents as part of efforts to keep them healthy.”