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Parking short in quake-hit Kumamoto as residents stay overnight in cars

Evacuees chat at a parking lot in the Kumamoto Prefecture town of Mashiki on April 17, 2016. (Mainichi)

A growing number of residents of quake-hit areas in Kumamoto Prefecture are choosing to stay overnight in their cars for fear of further earthquakes, but there remains a shortage of parking lots.

As of 9:30 a.m. on April 17, approximately 180,000 people were taking shelter in Kumamoto Prefecture, according to the prefectural government's disaster task force.

Evacuation shelters set up at schools, community centers and other public facilities have not received sufficient supplies, and these shelters cannot accommodate all evacuees. Those who stay overnight in their cars, meanwhile, are struggling to find parking lots.

About 600 evacuees are staying at a shelter set up at the Mashiki municipal health and welfare center situated in the center of the town, but the facility has parking space for only about 100 vehicles.

A Mashiki woman in her 30s and 18 relatives from five families who evacuated from their homes had been staying overnight in five cars at parks and on farmland, but as they were unable to receive relief supplies or information on the disaster, they moved to the shelter. However, the families were unable to secure parking space for their cars, and were forced to park on a vehicle passageway on the premises.

"I wonder what we'll do if we're told to remove our cars," she says.

A 65-year-old man from Mashiki, who has been staying in his car with his 59-year-old wife, has to regularly visit a hospital outside the town to undergo dialysis treatment.

"I'm concerned that there may be no parking spaces after I come back," he says.

The municipal government has designated about 10 facilities as evacuation shelters.

"We are only thinking about securing enough buildings as evacuation shelters, so we don't know the capacity of available parking lots," a municipal government representative said.

The parking lot of the Grandmesse Kumamoto exhibition center in western Mashiki, which has a capacity of 2,200 vehicles, was filled with evacuees' cars and emergency vehicles on the night of April 16.

Even though Grandmesse is not designated by the municipal government as an evacuation shelter, four town officials have been assigned to the facility to look after evacuees.

One of the officials pointed to difficulty in grasping information on evacuees who stay overnight in their cars.

"At designated shelters, all evacuees are supposed to write down their names and addresses on a list. However, those who stay overnight in their cars frequently come and go. It's difficult to grasp the number of such evacuees," the official said.

Officials faced difficulties coping with a surge in the number of evacuees since the main quake hit the area on April 16 following "foreshocks" that began on April 14.

Officials were unable to calculate the amount of relief supplies necessary, and bread prepared as breakfast for 500 people immediately ran out.

On the night of April 16, nine lavatories were set up on the premises of Grandmesse.

A 61-year-old man working in the construction industry who has evacuated from Kumamoto's Higashi Ward said, "My apartment was built only five years ago, and the only damage was that some furniture fell down. Still, I'm afraid because aftershocks are continuing. I came here because there's no parking space at the evacuation shelter near my home."

The Mashiki Municipal Government estimates that approximately 10,000 people are taking shelter at the facility based on the number of cars parked there.

The Cabinet Office had planned to release guidelines for managing evacuation shelters by the end of this month for local governments across the country, but released them on April 17 following the Kumamoto quakes. The Cabinet Office handed the guidelines to local bodies hit by the disaster before publicizing them.

However, the guidelines detail only the living environment inside designated shelters, and have no information on how to secure parking spaces for evacuees who stay overnight in their vehicles.

An official of the Cabinet Office said the government regards the issue of how to secure parking space for evacuees as having emerged following the latest quakes.

"I think there's room for discussion on the issue of parking space," the official said.

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