• Kyodo

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Many volunteer centers have been established since an earthquake struck Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures earlier this month, which damaged more than 3,000 housings and buildings. But a local welfare association in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, that sets up volunteer centers in times of disaster has not done so, saying it has not received any requests for help. But some older people are at a loss of what to do, unable to clear out debris on their own.

The municipal office in Soma, which registered a strong 6 on the Japanese earthquake intensity scale, is still trying to find out the exact number of houses and buildings that were damaged.

“Cabinets and bookshelves fell down, and it is impossible to put things back on my own,” said a 79-year-old woman who lives with her husband, 79, who has a physical disability.

A house in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, remains in disarray Monday after an earthquake struck earlier this month. | KYODO
A house in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, remains in disarray Monday after an earthquake struck earlier this month. | KYODO

Even now, things that fell down during the earthquake are scattered across the house, leaving no space to walk.

“A week on from the earthquake, I was finally able to make space to sit,” the woman said. “If volunteers were to come, I would like them to help organize our living space.”

In the house of an 80-year-old man who lives by himself, a cupboard collapsed, leaving pieces of dishes and glasses all over the floor. The concrete wall surrounding his home also fell down due to the earthquake.

“I haven’t owned a car since returning my license, so I need help removing all the garbage,” said the man.

When the welfare organization assesses whether to establish a volunteer center, welfare commissioners first visit households to get a grasp of the situation, according to Soma city and the organization.

Since the organization maintains that it has not had any calls for help with getting rid of debris, establishing the volunteer center in Soma is not planned at the moment.

In other areas of Fukushima, such as Koriyama city and the town of Koori, on the other hand, volunteers have been recruited, though the service is limited to local residents due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shinchi town will also start accepting applications from Thursday, catering to the needs of households with older people.

“If no one else in the neighborhood is asking for help from volunteers, people will be hesitant to ask,” said Tetsuya Myojo, executive director at Japan Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. “It is important to collaborate with organizations with disaster assistance know-how on a regular basis and be prepared to respond to the detailed needs of those affected by the disaster.”

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