Feb 1, 2014

Earthquake and Tsunami victims support meeting @ Ofunato

The 26th Sendai diocese support meeting took place on 30 January at the Jinomori Ikoino-ie in Ofunato, Iwate prefecture. The Jinomori Ikoino-ie is a volunteer center (base) run by Osaka eccesiastical province and a part of continuous effort of entire Japanese Catholic Church to support rehabilitation program of Sendai diocese. The entire program has been called the "All Japan" program. For the meeting in Ofunato, each of three provinces in Japan sent their bishop in charge, namely Bishop Hamaguchi for Nagasaki province, Bishop Suwa for Osaka province and Bishop Koda for Tokyo province. I attended as a bishop in charge of the "All Japan" and Bishop Hiraga of Sendai was also present as a chair of the meeting. All together 14 people were in presence.

Prior to the meeting in the morning, we invited 4 local people to share the situation and difficulties in the area. As we could see while we were in Ofunato, tsunami hit area has not been rehabilitated as such. Most of the damaged buildings have been demolished but new construction has not been started. The local people told us about this delay of reconstruction. It is mainly because  the government employs laws and regulations for ordinary times for such reconstruction program and not for emergency situation. So especially in Tsunami hit area, reconstruction has been taking too much time as local governments have to have unanimous agreement from entire landowners before they could start any new construction programs. So naturally it takes time.

The tsunami hit area was already less populated and aging area before the disaster. As majority have to live in refuge for already three years, some started to leave the area and settled in other communities. It will be very difficult to re-create communities in these area. People are suffering from just waiting for something to happen.

According to the government statistics, around 270 thousand (270,000) people are still in refuge in all over Japan. Many of them are still living in temporary housings. Catholic Volunteers operates Cafe in many temporary housing area to provide opportunity for people to share their stories and spend time together.

In Ofunato and also other similar coastal areas, subsided land after the earth quake has been big problem. The local governments have resolved that landfill would be only solution to protect people from future tsunami. To do so, all the remaining buildings have to be demolished, though some of them are in practical use at this moment, and land ownerships have to be readjusted. I wonder how long it may take to complete all these process to begin building new communities in the area.

In Ofunato, railway line has been destroyed. Railway company gave up to reconstruct the line and replaced it with bus service. You may see from the photo above. This is a "railway crossing" for Bus service.

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