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Saturday, March 19, 2011

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Displaced: A family who evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture to escape the nuclear power plant crisis takes a rest with other evacuees at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama Prefecture on Friday. SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

Prefectures open shelters for tsunami survivors


Staff writer

SAITAMA — Governments in the Kanto region opened shelters Thursday for people who have evacuated from northern Japan.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government opened the Tokyo Budokan arena in Adachi Ward and Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu for 1,600 evacuees. Officials also secured three places in central Tokyo where patients from the Tohoku region undergoing dialysis can stay.

The Saitama Prefectural Government opened the multipurpose Saitama Super Arena as a temporary shelter.

Chiba, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Kanagawa prefectures are also providing shelters.

The Kanto region is seeing an increase in the flow of people escaping the devastation caused by the March 11 quake and tsunami and the threat of radiation from the stricken nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture.

Many are streaming in from Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, which is close to the nuclear plant, Saitama official Kenzo Yukihiro said Friday.

"The number of people (at Saitama Super Arena) rose to 570 from 100 in a day. We're also receiving calls nonstop."

According to Yukihiro, the arena can accommodate up to 5,000 people through the end of March. The prefecture is providing blankets, towels and facial masks, but evacuees have to figure out on their own where to buy food and bathe.

Mieko, a mother of a 10-year-old boy from Iwaki who withheld her family name, said she came to Saitama because she was worried about radiation. She said she arrived Thursday by car.

"We remained in (Iwaki) for a few days (after the earthquake), but we got really worried about the nuclear power plant. I have a child, so we decided to evacuate," she said.

She learned the venue had been opened as a shelter on Twitter. Including her parents, she fled with eight family members, but her brother and his wife are still in Iwaki because they are doctors, she said.

"They have to see patients, so they couldn't leave."

Mieko said she is already looking for a new place to stay as the arena is staying open only on a temporary basis.

"Our family is not going back," she said. "We made that decision when we left. We're concerned about radiation."

Another family, who only revealed their last name, Mashiko, said they also headed south to get away from the troubled Fukushima No. 1 power plant. They arrived at the arena Friday morning.

"I'm worried about (the radiation risk to) my 8-year-old daughter," the wife said, adding she was working when the earthquake hit but rushed immediately from her office to look for her child, who was on the way home from school.

"I was scared," she said.

According to the couple, the water supply had stopped in their district in Iwaki, so they couldn't take a shower until Thursday, when they spent the night at a hotel before getting to Saitama.

"Even here, there's no shower so we will have to figure something out," the husband said.

Not all of the families were able to come to Saitama together, according to one woman from Iwaki.

"My husband is a doctor. He had to stay. I came here alone," she said and burst into tears.

People living near the venue showed up to help, but they were asked to come back later because the prefectural government wasn't ready to accept volunteers. One of them, architect Hiroshi Matsuda, said he wanted to provide a place to stay.

"It's just not fair that people in Fukushima have to suffer from the (trouble at) the nuclear power plant, which provided electricity and benefited us," Matsuda said.

"I want to do something for them."

Reiko Suzuki, who runs a nonprofit organization for mothers, also tried to volunteer.

"I wanted to help parents with kids. I saw babies at the arena crying on TV, and I want to tell people there it is normal for small children to cry and not to get irritated by it," she said.



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