NAGANO/TOKYO – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Sunday that the government will make an all-out effort to get the lives of disaster-hit residents back to normal, reiterating that he plans to compile a quick relief package by tapping a ¥500 billion reserve fund.
On the third leg of his inspection tour since fierce Typhoon Hagibis swept through central and eastern Japan last weekend, the prime minister visited Nagano Prefecture on Sunday to assess the damage, following visits to Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures on Thursday.
As of Sunday, the death toll from the season’s 19th named storm stood at 79 in 12 prefectures including Tokyo, with 10 people still missing, according to a Kyodo News tally. The Cabinet Office says some 4,600 people are still in emergency shelters.
The government announced the same day that the number of houses and buildings damaged by Hagibis came to 56,753, exceeding the 51,000 damaged during the torrential rains in western Japan last year.
The prime minister visited shelters and other places in Nagano while holding talks with local officials, including Gov. Shuichi Abe. The two men are not related.
“The government will do everything it can. We will make all-out efforts in searching for missing people and in restoring rivers and lifeline services,” Abe told the governor in a meeting.
The central government has decided to disburse about ¥710 million from ¥500 billion in reserves set aside under the fiscal 2019 budget. It is also considering compiling an extra budget to finance reconstruction, officials said earlier.
“The ¥500 billion reserve fund will be the source of our relief package, which I would like to compile as quickly as possible,” Abe told reporters.
The prime minister inspected the site of a breached embankment on the Chikuma River, inundated homes and other areas the typhoon damaged in Nagano, which also saw a fleet of bullet trains submerged at a rail yard.
Infrastructure damage aside, concerns are looming large over people’s health, whether they are in shelters or not.
In response, the government has deployed disaster medical assistance teams to areas where medical institutions were severely damaged by Hagibis.
According to the health ministry, a total of 29 medical institutions in Fukushima, Tochigi and other prefectures were flooded and seven remained inundated as of Friday afternoon.
In the town of Marumori, Miyagi Prefecture, four medical institutions were damaged and three of them were unable to offer their usual services. The three include its largest hospital, which was flooded above the first floor level and had evacuated all of its in-patients by Thursday. The hospital, located near the municipal government building, usually handles about 200 outpatients on a daily basis.
In the aftermath of the typhoon, the town government set up an aid station in its building, where a full-time DMAT provided medical care free of charge.
Kunimoto Abe, 79, visited the medical station after developing symptoms of diarrhea at an evacuation shelter after mud forced him out of his house during the typhoon.
“I was worried as I had never had stomach trouble. But I’m relieved after receiving care,” Abe said.
“We hope to play a stopgap role until the medical posture is restored here,” the DMAT’s doctor Shinsaku Ueda said.
In the city of Nagano, a DMAT staffed with public health nurses and registered dietitians began to offer counseling services in flooded areas and evacuation shelters.
An official of the city’s public health center said that there are concerns about infectious disease, while evacuees are starting to complain of psychological stress from their prolonged stays at the shelters.
The official also said many elderly people are putting aside treatment for existing medical problems as they are preoccupied with cleaning up their homes from the typhoon.
“We need to check if they are monitoring blood pressure and carrying drugs,” the official said.
Meanwhile on Sunday, residents in flood-hit areas continued work to remove debris. Volunteers were also coming in to help them remove mud from their homes and throw out furniture and household appliances that are no longer usable.
In Miyagi, Marumori began accepting volunteers on Sunday. Some 1,000 people from Miyagi and other prefectures formed a long line outside the town office before the admission process started at 9 a.m.
“I often come to this town as I have a lot of friends here,” said Shintaro Kono, a 32-year-old office worker from the town of Ogawara in the prefecture, as he scooped up mud in a bucket together with other volunteers. “I thought now is the time to help them out.”
But residents’ anxiety about their future is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
Hiroki Sato, 56, who runs a home electronics appliance shop in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, is one such person whose economic prospects have been clouded by the storm.
“Frankly, I’m wondering whether I could keep running my store here,” Sato said, adding that brand new television sets and air conditioners in stock were damaged and are now useless because of the flooding.
Similar despair was expressed by Hitoshi Ito, a 64-year-old baker in Motomiya, Fukushima Prefecture.
“Longtime customers come and help me, saying they want to eat the bread I bake, but I’m totally at a loss as to when I can restart the business,” he said.