In early December, 2012, I toured parts of Fukushima Prefecture and met with survivors of the earthquake, tsunami and accident at the nuclear plant which devastated the area in March 2011. Although nearly two years had passed since the catastrophe, the devastation was still apparent in many places, not to mention the stories of evacuees and other survivors. Here, for example, is a panoramic photo I took of a town on the seashore:
The seemingly low wall on the horizon is the top part of a seawall reconstructed after the tsunami, a wall actually over ten feet high in this area. In the foreground, concrete foundations and garden spaces are all that remain of homes swept away by the tsunami. At the center of the seawall, and at what would have been the front entrances of the former homes, flowers mark offerings to those lost in the tragedy, as shown in this photograph:
The survivors with whom we spoke were stoic about the loss of their homes, jobs and communities, and did not seem bitter about their situations. This is remarkable for several reasons, not least of them the speed with which the government, local and national, repaired roads, bridges and public structures but left homeowners who lost their homes to struggle with outstanding mortgages on houses that no longer exist because of the earthquake and tsunami or on houses that they can no longer occupy because of high levels of radioactivity from the nuclear accident caused by the earthquake and tsunami.
I was struck by the parallels with the plight of residents of coastal Louisiana and, more recently, those in poorer areas damaged by Hurricane Sandy. On first seeing the emergency housing provided to the evacuees, members of our group who had been to Haiti and before that to New Orleans were impressed with the quality of aid provided, but as we listened and learned about evacuees’ debt burdens, lack of employment, and health problems, it became clear that they had more in common with Haitian and Louisianan survivors than we initially thought. All in all, it was sobering to see the disruption to the lives of so many families and to hear of the lack of government or business efforts to address the evacuees’ difficulties.