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Sunday, 24 April 2011

Inside a shelter :details.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 1:23pm
The first shelter we visited was very small. School gymnasiums are used here as evacuation centers, typically for a few days or a week at most until people can get back to their homes and aftershock fears have subsided. They were never intended to be semi permanent homes like they have become now while government ponders the huge demand for relocation posed in the aftermath of the tsunami and also the Fukushima plant situation with thousands ordered to evacuate there too. Fukushima evacuees are getting priority because temporary evacuation gymnasiums are not even possible in the affected zone.

Apartments have been allocated for some Fukushima refugees already but they are nowhere near enough and they are done on a lottery system.  Lucky numbers. Tsunami evacuees are still waiting to hear. One wonders about the large number of empty hoses on many streets and if there isn't a way that these could be bought and used..I feel.. after speaking to evacuees, that being together with other evacuees may not be the best plan for mental health. Everybody has  a story more grim and more horrific than their neighbor's family and this cloud of tragic memory may be harder to disperse if all evacuees are placed together in "tsunami apartments".

So people are cramped and hygiene and conditions at the first shelter we visited were really bad, as can easily happen when too many people live in too small a space for too long a time. I asked several people I spoke to what they would want donations to fund for them and they invariably replied "a good nights sleep" or" to be healthy again" or "a home". While donations of food and blankets and books and snacks are now readily available and being distributed (if at times in a very restricted -one each- manner) and definitely appreciated!..stress has taken a toll on health. As one woman explained:

"The first week after the tsunami we were wet!! Soaking wet from the knees or waist down. There was no power here so NO heat and no water or electricity. We slept in freezing conditions, wet and hungry. Then when the SDF (ground defense army) got through in helicopters the onigiri and apples rations were small. Not enough for hungry cold people to revive. People began to catch colds and fevers and the small cramped space meant these were passed around fast. No cleaning materials or hot water meant bathrooms were filthy and no baths meant people were too. We are still trying to get back our health, some have caught flu...the govt are providing masks and insist we all wear them to stop the spreading of germs"

She told me food was distributed until it ran out like this " people in their 7os please come to the stage for their apple and onigiri, please make an orderly line and wait your turn". Then it would be "people in their 20s" etc, randomly. She said on the first day food had run out before they called her age group : (  I guess numbers far exceeded what was first expected and food was so short for all.

Since that first terrible week -when even the army you have to remember had trouble getting food - things have greatly improved regarding food, heat, water etc. The govt is providing wholesome hot meals to all shelter residents 3 times  a day and mountains of boxes of snacks from Canada and other countries I saw are waiting to be distributed and being rationed out daily. It is controlled very tightly. I was not allowed take a pic of the warehouse supplies..

While this style may seem not quite right to us, it is how things are done. Rules are rules and people do not tend to break them. It does have a very good side... keeping order, safety and fairness perhaps, but it is frustrating for many volunteers who just want to help fast and plentifully and ...yes, randomly.

Many of these people are just numb with emotion. They look weary and sad and emotionless.Many have hacking coughs. The woman I quoted above said to me she cannot now distinguish between what is true and what is a dream after seeing her father washed out to sea. A man beside her then joined in, saying with equally numb expression that he watched two of his four kids washed away..most of these people have lost their whole house and everything in it. Jo-ho-san (as I called her) said that they had 5 minutes at most to gather a bag and in that bag she could only fit a small number of possessions. She says she cannot stop thinking about her photo albums washed out in the ocean, photos of their past which she now has no record of.

I was able to give Jo-ho- san some vitamins and batteries and granola bars for her and her family. Also some scented lotion and wetwipes. It is so frustrating not to be able to do more. I really want to go back to this shelter because it seemed to be still so in need compared to the next one we visited. I wanted so badly to give everyone  a hotel room for the night just to get a decent night's sleep but it is beyond my means and would not be allowed anyway. Jo-ho- said she had slept sitting since the quake because allocated space in the communal sleeping area was limited, she said she hadn't slept lieing flat since before the quake.

The children at this center were so lively and it was so wonderful to see pets being given a shelter of their own and being played with and petted by people. Volunteers from Turkey had visited the previous week and cooked Turkish food, volunteers from Tokyo had been with circus performers and balloons, everyone is trying to help.

a tent in the playing area for babies, diaper change perhaps.
looking in to the sleeping area/gymnasium