02/21/2024, 12.12
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Cherry blossom season 'evicts' New Year earthquake evacuees

Most of the evacuees from the New Year's Day earthquake that hit Ishikawa Prefecture in particular are still housed in hotels, but spring and the opening of the new high-speed train route are speeding up the time for their departure from hotels

Noto, Ishikawa (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The New Year's Day earthquake that struck with a 7.6-magnitude tremor mainly in Ishikawa Prefecture was the deadliest in Japan in eight years, with 238 confirmed fatalities, 44,000 houses completely or partially destroyed and about 15,000 people displaced.

Most were accommodated in hotels and inns that withstood the quake in neighbouring prefectures. But less than two months after the tragedy and with the reconstruction machine struggling to get off the ground - there is still a shortage of electricity in several affected areas - the evacuees face a further problem: accommodation facilities in the area must be vacated by the beginning of March, and the people left without home, work or affection must find alternative accommodation.

The hotels and inns that are providing a place of shelter from the harsh Japanese winter of this 2024 for these people are in a complex situation: the inauguration of the extension of the Hokuriku Shinkansen high-speed railway line from Kanazawa - capital of the Ishikawa prefecture - to Tsuruga in the neighbouring Fukui prefecture - is scheduled for 16 March.

This occasion, seen as an opportunity for the hotel industry to recover from the fallout of the earthquake, comes at the same time as the first cherry blossoms of the upcoming hanami, which brings millions of tourists to the Land of the Rising Sun every year, leading to a surge in bookings in the area.

It is why the structures need to find a new solution for the evacuees, made difficult by the slow progress of post-earthquake work. In Kanazawa alone - in terms of tourism - there are now about 5,200 evacuees housed in hotel facilities, who will soon have to find a new location.

Meanwhile, the Ishikawa prefecture has initiated information sessions and consultation events on the future accommodation of these families by the beginning of March. Among the options already considered are public housing - often used by social services - which would only suffice for about 330 displaced persons at the moment, and the repair of the damaged houses of these families. But  there is no definite timeframef or this hypothesis.

Among these thousands of people with their lives 'suspended' is also Toshio Kobashi, 80, who fled to Kaga-Hyakumangoku from the town of Wajima, who says: "I can't go back home because the roads are blocked and the nearest temporary accommodation is already full".

"If we are told to move, there is no choice but to do so," said a resigned Masayuki Tsubakihara, 47, evacuated with his mother to an inn in the town of Komatsu. "I don't know when we will be able to move to other temporary accommodation, and it will be difficult to go to work if we live somewhere far away."

The only 'positive note' - but still no firm timetable - is that construction work began last week on 2,347 temporary housing units in Ishikawa prefecture, which says it aims to reach 4,000 by the end of March. But the figure is far lower than the 7,000 official applications submitted by the 15,000 evacuees.

Photo: an Ishikawa prefectural official providing information on new accommodation for earthquake evacuees in hotels and inns during a meeting in Kaga


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