| March 27
March 27 OTSU, Japan - Ninety-three-year-old Kou
Murata sat cross-legged on the floor of an elementary school
classroom, her home for the past fortnight since the massive
9.0-magnitude earthquake struck Japan's east coast.
Surrounded by piles of quilts and blankets, she fretted over
what was to become of her in the twilight of her life.
"I am afraid because people are leaving, and we are alone,"
she said, looking small and frail in a jacket decorated with
Otsu is well south of the widespread damage from the
earthquake, and the towns that were wiped off the map by the
monster tsunami that reached higher than 10 meters (33 feet) and
swallowed boats, homes, businesses and, rescuers believe, some
20,000 people. In all, more than 27,000 people are dead or
But Otsu is only 70 kilometers (42 miles) south of the
crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, whose reactors
have been leaking radiation since March 11, adding a nuclear
crisis that has drawn alarm from around the world.
The U.S. government has advised its citizens to stay at
least 80 kilometers away from the plant, whose radiation has
seeped into local milk and vegetables and, briefly, into Tokyo's
The Japanese government has evacuated people within 20
kilometers of the plant, and told people who live with 30
kilometers of the reactors to stay indoors as much as possible.
A Geiger counter reading in Otsu on Sunday showed 0.9
microsieverts per hour. That was more than five times the level
of 0.16 microsieverts per hour in downtown Tokyo on Sunday,
although below levels that would cause concern.
A dose of 50 microsieverts is equivalent to receiving one
chest X-ray, according to Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety
Murata's daughter Hisae complained that the government has
not reached out to help them.
"I want to go back home, but the situation is impossible,"
she said. "I applied to the government to get a temporary house,
but we need a certificate to say the house was destroyed. Now
all the temporary houses have been taken. We thought the
government would come to us, but we need to go to them."
Otsu Machi, as it is formally known, is a town of 5,200 that
is part of the city of Kitaibaraki at the northern end of
Ibaraki prefecture (state), on the border with Fukushima
prefecture. While away from the regions hardest hit by the
disaster, Otsu nonetheless suffered considerable damage from the
quake and tsunami. Some older houses collapsed, and broken
furniture littered some streets.
On Sunday, people were out repairing damaged roofs and there
were lines of up to a kilometer for petrol. Some petrol stations
had put out signs saying "Sold Out."
A local McDonalds restaurant was closed at lunchtime.
The port was in ruins. Dozens of fishing boats had been
tossed onshore and lay on their sides. Rows of wrecked cars
stood where they had been crushed into each other. Bent and
buckled bicycles lay scattered about. Shops along the
harborfront had shattered windows.
A Japanese coast guard ship was offshore. Divers in scuba
gear dropped into the water from small dinghies.
More than 243,000 people have been living in evacuation
since the quake and tsunami catastrophe more than two weeks ago,
mostly in school gymnasiums that have been turned into
dormitories. Government officials estimate it could be months
before they can be moved to temporary housing.
At the school-turned-evacuation center in Otsu, the Muratas
and other evacuees watched a large flatscreen television that
had been donated. Details of a temporary bus service were
scratched onto a classroom blackboard.
The centre had housed up to 400 refugees immediately after
the quake, but the number has since dwindled to 43 as people
found shelter elsewhere. Most of those left are elderly, relying
on oil heaters for warmth at night and left to wonder, like Kou
Murata, where their home will be.
(Writing by Terril Yue Jones; Editing by Bill Tarrant)
(Created by Bill Tarrant)