Japan`s tsunami refugees brace for harsh winter

Many lost their homes when the monster waves of March 11 swept ashore, killing 20,000 people and grinding whole neighbourhoods into matchwood.

Updated: Dec 29, 2011, 15:24 PM IST

Ishinomaki: As the mercury plunges
in Japan`s disaster-hit northeast, thousands of people in
temporary homes are digging in for what could be a long, hard
and very cold winter.

Swirling snow and driving winds will add to the misery of
tsunami survivors in a region where the temperature frequently
dips below freezing through December, January and February.

Many lost their homes when the monster waves of March 11
swept ashore, killing 20,000 people and grinding whole
neighbourhoods into matchwood.

In Ishinomaki, one of the hardest-hit coastal
settlements, more than half of the city`s 61,000 houses were
either swept away completely or severely damaged by the
towering tsunami.

City authorities have built more than 7,000 temporary
homes that are now providing shelter for around 6,800
families.

Heaters, insulation, new tatami straw mats and even
electrically heated toilet seats have all been provided, a
city official said.

A further 6,500 families have moved into apartments
rented by the local government on their behalf.

But thousands of others are not so fortunate.
Ishinomaki officials concede they are unsure how up to
20,000 families will be keeping warm this winter.

"They must be either staying with relatives far away or
living in their own house if the damage was not so bad," an
official said.

"But we don`t have much information about them."
Hideko Kamiyama and her family were confined to the upper
floor of their partially-destroyed home for months, as they
patiently waited for craftsmen to transform the downstairs
from a fetid mess of broken and rotting timbers.

"Our house was almost completely destroyed in the
disaster, but many volunteers and carpenters worked hard to
repair it," she said, wrapping her jacket tighter against the
cold.

"It`s 80 per cent repaired now, and volunteers gave us
heaters and carpets.

"(They also) gave me various things such as patches you
can stick on your back to warm you up. I think I can handle
the winter now, no matter how cold it gets," Kamiyama said.

In a town that registered a low of minus eight degrees
Celsius in February, Kamiyama will need all the warmth she can
get. But she is not going to find it from her neighbours.
"There was a house here before," she said pointing to a
vacant lot next to her own which was torn down after suffering
irreparable damage when the waves hit.

People allocated temporary homes have few complaints
about the austere conditions in which they live, but are
desperately hoping a more permanent solution can soon be
found.

PTI