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Reluctance to seek help is slowing earthquake recovery in part of Fukushima

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Fukushima – Several volunteer centers have been established since the earthquake struck Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures earlier this month, destroying more than 3,000 homes and buildings. But a local social welfare association in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, which is setting up volunteer centers in times of disaster, has not done so, saying it has not received any requests for assistance. But some elderly people lose track of what to do, unable to remove the debris themselves.

The Soma Municipal Office, which scored a score of 6 on the Japanese earthquake severity scale, is still trying to find out the exact number of homes and buildings damaged.

“The cupboards and bookshelves have fallen, and it’s impossible to return things on my own,” said a 79-year-old woman who lived with her physically disabled husband of 79.

A house in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, was still in shambles on Monday after the earthquake earlier this month. | Kyodo

Even now, things that fell during the earthquake are scattered all over the house, leaving no space for walking.

“A week after the earthquake, I was finally able to make a space to sit,” the woman said. “If the volunteers are to come, I would like them to help organize our living space.”

In the house of an 80-year-old man who lives alone, a cupboard collapses, leaving pieces of dishes and glasses on the floor. The concrete wall surrounding his home also fell due to the earthquake.

“I haven’t owned a car since my license was returned, so I need help removing all the trash,” the man said.

When a social welfare organization assesses whether a volunteer center should be set up, welfare commissioners first visit families to understand the situation, according to Soma City and the organization.

Since the organization maintains that it has not received any calls to help clear the rubble, the establishment of the Soma volunteer center is not currently planned.

In other areas of Fukushima, such as Koriyama City and Kure Town, on the other hand, volunteers have been recruited, although the service is limited to locals due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shinchi town will also start accepting orders from Thursday, to cater to families with elders.

“If no one else in the neighborhood asks for help from the volunteers, people will be reluctant to ask for help,” said Tetsuya Meijo, executive director of Japan’s disaster volunteer organizations. “It is important to collaborate with organizations with expertise in disaster assistance on a regular basis and be prepared to respond to the detailed needs of those affected by the disaster.”

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