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Losing hope of returning

March 7, 2012

Evacuees from March 11 disasters losing hope of going home



Of those who have evacuated from areas hit hard by the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis, an increasing number are considering settling down in locations away from their hometowns, a Mainichi survey has found.

The latest survey, conducted nearly a full year after the onset of the triple disasters, is the second such survey by the Mainichi. In the first survey, conducted in August and September of last year, about six months after the disasters, 54 percent of respondents had said that they were thinking of settling permanently away from their hometowns. This time, 63 percent of respondents said the same, indicating an approximate 10-point increase from the earlier survey.

The results have highlighted how delayed recovery from tsunami damage and the ongoing nuclear crisis -- a year after a massive earthquake triggered the disasters -- has made it impossible for evacuees to envision the prospects of their return home. Indeed, of those who are still planning on moving back to their hometowns, 53 percent responded that they had no clear idea of when that might become possible.

Of the subjects who responded to the first survey last year, 129 evacuees scattered around the country answered the latest survey in February this year. Of the respondents, 102 people -- or about 80 percent -- had evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture, 24 from Miyagi Prefecture and two from Iwate Prefecture.

When asked for their reasons for not returning to their hometowns, 77 percent of respondents said "fear of radiation exposure." Twenty-seven percent responded, "the pain of living in a disaster area," 23 percent said "found work elsewhere," and 16 percent said "children adapted to new schools." As life away from "home" is prolonged, people have begun setting down roots in new places.

Some respondents also discussed the emotional scars from which they have not yet recovered, including one female respondent in her 80s who said, "My home was swept away by tsunami, and all I have are painful memories."

The survey has not shown any improvements in evacuees' stress and health conditions; while 66 percent in the earlier survey said they were feeling stress from their lives as evacuees, 60 percent said the same in the latest survey. Likewise, 61 percent said they experienced changes in health conditions in the earlier survey, while 60 percent said the same in the latest survey.

Comments such as "I can't find work and I don't know when I'll be able to return to Fukushima" from a man in his 50s who has evacuated to Fukuoka Prefecture, and "I'm finding it difficult to make interpersonal ties" from a woman in her 40s who is now in Niigata Prefecture, point to the emotional and physical strain that living in a foreign environment can have on evacuees.

In both the earlier and latest surveys, the percentage of respondents who said they were maintaining ties with people from their hometowns were about the same, at 86 percent and 87 percent, respectively. However, some subjects, including a man in his 60s who is now in Ishikawa Prefecture, said: "The frequency with which we contact each other has been diminishing compared to before."

Among evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture, where a nuclear crisis is still taking place, 40 percent said they were for the immediate abolishment of nuclear power and 56 percent said they supported abolishment over time. Meanwhile, 4 percent said that nuclear power generation should be continued.

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