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Tsunami-hit Japan town faces recovery frustration

by Webmaster on 7/14/2011 | Comments | Viewed 5687 time(s) | Full Page View

SHICHIGAHAMA, Japan (MarketWatch) — Twelve weeks after a tsunami destroyed her home and business, Keiko Tsukamoto stood in the debris-strewn foundation of what had been her barbershop and wondered what would happen next.

She pointed behind her, at the shell of a ruined house with a car still wedged sideways in one of the windows.

“That was my friend’s father’s car; he died that day,” she said quietly. About 90 of her neighbors also lost their lives, a few of whom were among the nearly 8,000 people still missing after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami ravaged this part of Japan.

Similar scenes of destruction could still be seen in dozens of coastal communities of the northeastern Tohoku region, where the quake and giant wave killed more than 15,000. Stunned residents like Tsukamoto were still waiting for the central government to overcome political differences and detail its reconstruction plan — and, more crucially, to fund it.

In the meantime, recovery efforts move at an uneven pace, while the survivors pick up the pieces. Watch slide show: Scenes from Japan’s disaster zon


Tsukamoto had lived all of her 51 years in her family’s home a few blocks from the ocean in the seaside town of Shichigahama, which had about 20,000 citizens and whose name means “seven beaches.” On that March afternoon, a magnitude-9.0 offshore earthquake sent a 12-meter-high wall of water thundering two kilometers inland, destroying all homes, lives and livelihoods in its path.

“I knew this was no ordinary earthquake. Then we heard the tsunami warning,” she said, her subdued tone belying her terror. “I didn’t grab anything at all from inside the house, no important things. I just got into my car and escaped. It was so scary.”

Her words halting and uncertain, Tsukamoto said she was staying in temporary accommodations and that her family remained undecided about rebuilding.

In contrast, the mayor of Shichigahama had unambiguously forceful words when asked about the central government’s response to the disaster so far. “It’s not enough!” said 68-year-old Yoshio Watanabe. “I am irritated.”

Watanabe spoke at Shichigahama’s town hall, located on a hillside above the disaster zone.

His own home, a few blocks from Tsukamoto’s, was also washed completely away, and he lived in his office for the first 40 days after the disaster. He has since moved with his wife, who was on higher ground when the tsunami struck, to stay with relatives, he said.