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Police, others comb Pacific shores for missing people 5 years, 5 months after disaster

12 August 2016

Police officers, firefighters and other officials searched Pacific coast areas in Fukushima Prefecture on Aug. 11 for the whereabouts of people still missing five years and five months since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. Searched were 12 locations where damage from the tsunami disaster was especially heavy.

At Tomioka fishing port in Tomioka town, about 20 searchers comprising members of a riot squad from the Fukushima Prefectural Police Headquarters and officers from the Futaba Police Station took part in the operation. Five divers from the squad combed undersea areas, using underwater robots, in search of clues to missing people. It was the first undersea search in the area in about two years and nine months.

At the port, Toshiyuki Kanno, head of the Security Department at the prefectural police, gave words of encouragement to the searchers. "In this prefecture, 197 people are still unaccounted for," Kanno said. "More than five years have passed and we were able to return the remains of five people to their families last year. We would like to use our full force in the search, bearing in mind the thoughts of family members."

■2 bone pieces found in Namie
As a result of the operation, searchers discovered two pieces of bone in the Tanashio district of Namie town. The police headquarters is examining them to confirm if they are of human origin.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

12 August 2016

Evacuees allowed temporary home returns for "Bon" holidays in Okuma town

Some residents in the wholly evacuated town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, returned to their homes for temporary lodging from Aug. 11 under a special program timed with the midsummer "Bon" Buddhist holiday season. Allowed to return were residents in a zone being prepared for the lifting of an evacuation order, imposed after the 2011 nuclear accident, as well as in a residency-restricted zone. Other parts of Okuma, one of the two towns hosting Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant, remain off-limits due to still high levels of radiation from the accident.

It was the first time for the town to permit temporary home lodging. On the first day, 12 residents from six families applied for the program. One of the residents, Hitoshi Izumisawa, 65, decorated a family altar with new flowers and offered incense sticks at his home in the Okawara district where residency is restricted. The altar has a spirit tablet dedicated to his mother who died at 90 last year. Izumisawa lives in temporary housing for evacuees in Aizuwakamatsu city. He was to spend the first night at home since the accident with his 70-year-old wife and eldest son, 41. "I believe my mother would have wanted to come home, too," he said. "Let’s sleep together tonight."

Ahead of the temporary home stay, Izumisawa had repaired damaged parts of his residence and brought in a refrigerator, a washing machine and a microwave oven, among other household items. "It's cooler here than in Aizuwakamatsu because of beach winds and, what is more, I feel most comfortable at home," he said with a sigh of relief. "But I cannot feel delighted straightforwardly," he added with a complex look. He was referring to the "difficult-to-return" zone that still occupies more than half the town area and where temporary home lodging is not allowed. Also, there are other townspeople who are outside the zone but who cannot return home due to a project under way to build an interim nuclear waste storage facility encompassing their residential areas.

Special lodging is permitted in line with major holiday seasons, including year-end and New Year holidays, and the Bon and equinoctial Buddhist memorial service seasons. The temporary homecoming program in Okuma was until Aug. 16. A total of 40 people from 13 households applied for the program, according to town officials.

(Translated by Kyodo News)

11 August 2016

Gov't to lift evacuation order for last part of Kawamata town next March

The central government's Local Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters unveiled a plan on Aug. 10 to lift an evacuation order for the Yamakiya district of Kawamata town, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 31, 2017. Part of the district is designated as a residency-restricted zone and the rest as a zone readying for the lifting of the order, imposed after the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The move is in response to requests from the town office and municipal assembly. The government is poised to discuss with the local authorities and evacuated residents ways of paving the way for their permanent return and then take a formal decision on the planned removal of the evacuation zones, located in the town's southern area closer to the crippled plant. The majority of the township has already been removed from the list of evacuation zones.

The plan to lift the evacuation order next March was explained by Osamu Goto, deputy head of the headquarters, at a meeting of all assembly members held at the town's central community hall. He handed a document listing answers to requests concerning the elimination of the evacuation areas to Kawamata Mayor Michio Furukawa and assembly head Hiromi Saito. "We expect to see the living environment improved by the end of March 2017," Goto said as he briefed the town side on the reasons for the proposed date for ending evacuation. "We also expect to see progress by then in thorough cleanup work, restoration of areas affected by torrential rainfall, and action to secure the livelihoods of residents, all as sought by the town."

At the meeting, assembly members said some replies to the town's requests are insufficient, and the two sides failed to make progress regarding meetings with evacuated residents to be held as a precondition for a formal decision on the date for terminating evacuation. The government side is set to offer additional answers early in an effort to obtain local understanding of the planned lifting of the evacuation order.

"The termination of evacuation is simply a first step," Furukawa said. "We will draw up measures together with the national government to prevent the daily living of returning residents from being adversely affected after the removal of the evacuation order."

(Translated by Kyodo News)

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