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Friday, April 8, 2011

Urayasu still dealing with liquefaction

Streets, water lines and sewers far from back to prequake levels


Staff writer

URAYASU, Chiba Pref. — Flanked by Tokyo Bay and greenery, Urayasu has long been a popular home for young families. But the March 11 earthquake turned the resortlike city into one of tilting houses, cracked roads and thrust sewer pipes up.

News photo
Liftoff: Liquefaction caused by the March 11 quake has partially lifted an elevator out of the ground near Shin Urayasu Station in Chiba Prefecture. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

About 300 km from the epicenter off Miyagi Prefecture and a 20-minute train ride from central Tokyo, Urayusu suffered ground liquefaction — which causes soil to act like quicksand — because three-fourths of the city sits on landfill.

The damage from liquefaction will cost the city about ¥73.4 billion, including restoring sewerage systems, waterworks and roads.

For residents whose homes were damaged, it will take time and money to get back to normal, but vital services are gradually recovering. About 73,000 households have water out of the 77,000 that were cut off immediately after the quake.

Almost four weeks have passed since the temblor, but the popular Disney theme parks were still closed Thursday. Although nothing inside them was damaged, both Disneyland and DisneySea are closed because of Tepco's unpredictable rolling blackouts, according to Hiroshi Suzuki, spokesman for Oriental Land Co., operator of the two parks.

Due to the shutdown, the number of visitors from April 1, 2010, to the end of last month declined 1.8 percent to 25.4 million people compared with a year earlier.

The quake has also affected the upcoming election for the Chiba Prefectural Assembly.

Urayasu Mayor Hideki Matsuzaki has been refusing to let the city take part in Sunday's election, saying the staff can't be spared to handle and count ballots because officials are too busy dealing with liquefaction damage.

Three candidates filed to run for two seats representing Urayasu, but it is likely there will be no voting Sunday. To fill the vacancies, the city plans to hold an election next month, according to the Chiba prefectural election board.

Many streets in Imagawa, the most affected district, are still covered with sand and mud that swelled to the surface in the liquefaction. Wheels of cars, even luxury ones, parked in front of houses are still muddy.

News photo
Rising to the occasion: A manhole outside a house in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, is seen elevated on March 12 due to liquefaction. COURTESY OF HIROSHI NISHIWAKI

"I actually saw a Mercedes buried in mud on my way home" a few days after the quake, said city spokeswoman Emiko Yanagida, who this week was still in blue coveralls at the busy disaster control headquarters set up in City Hall.

Other residents said they were unprepared for the scale of the disaster.

Hiroshi Nishiwaki, who runs a small inn near Tokyo Disneyland in the Maihama district, saw a manhole cover in front of his house rise from the street during the quake.

"I thought something was exploding under the ground," said Nishiwaki, adding he later saw displaced manholes all over the streets near his inn.

A woman from Imagawa who came to a nearby park to get water said she never expected to see so much damage in her neighborhood.

"I don't know when everything will be restored," she said.

A company employee who only gave her family name, Hashimoto, agreed.

"I never imagined it. I mean, Urayasu is a popular town close to Tokyo. It's such a great place to live especially for people with children," said Hashimoto, who lives in a bay-side condominium.

When the quake hit, she was in her office. But she quickly learned about the liquefaction in Urayasu on Twitter, she said.

While she has no plans to move, some people who were supposed to move into her condominium complex canceled their contracts, she said.

"Of course, not everyone can easily move to a different place," she added.

Water mains and sewer pipes have been repaired in Hashimoto's neighborhood, but it was tough not to be able to wash dishes, flush the toilet or take a shower for the first 10 days after the quake, she said.

"Some of my neighbors were wrapping plates in plastic so that they didn't have to wash them," she said. "But the city brought in water trucks soon after the quake, so I appreciate that the city dealt with the problem promptly."

The municipal government is still working on repairing lifelines.

"The Imagawa and Maihama districts are still affected, but the situation is getting better," said Urayasu spokeswoman Yanagida, adding all cracked roads have been patched up on a temporary basis.

The entire water and sewerage system is expected to be back by mid-April. Meanwhile, the city set up water pipes around the affected districts with taps every 500 meters.

News photo
Cracked concrete exposes a drainpipe in Imagawa, the most affected district of Urayasu. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

The city also began examining 10,000 houses in the affected areas in order to issue certificates proving damage. Officials aim to complete the task by the end of this month.

According to experts, some residents could have to pay up to ¥10 million to repair their houses.

The amount of compensation will be based on the certificates. More than 500 residents concerned about their houses have so far taken advantage of free consultations provided by the city, Yanagida said.

Innkeeper Nishiwaki said his house is fine, but a huge mound rose up in front of his neighbor's house. "You can reinforce a house by paying a lot of money, but the problem is you never know if you will be affected if another quake occurs," he said.

Meanwhile, Nishiwaki's main concern is his business; no tourists are coming to Tokyo Disneyland.

"About 90 percent of our customers come for the theme parks. The spring break is one of the busiest seasons, but now that they are closed, all the reservations are canceled," he said.



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