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Evacuation takes toll on ill, disabled people in Kumamoto

Kumamoto resident Tomiko Baba, left, and her daughter Kyoko are seen on April 17, 2016, in the gymnasium of a local junior high school in the city's Higashi Ward that is being utilized as an emergency shelter. (Mainichi)

Evacuation is taking a heavy toll on the ill and disabled amid ongoing aftershocks and delays in restoring lifelines following the earthquakes in Kumamoto Prefecture, as the number of evacuees increases.

Kiyofumi Sakamoto, 66, from the Hirosaki district in the Kumamoto prefectural town of Mashiki, evacuated together with his wife Kikuko, 63, to a nearby elementary school, where they have been staying inside a classroom. Paralyzed on the left side of his body following a brain hemorrhage seven years ago, Kiyofumi has been designated a level five on the scale of required care. Because his special nursing care bed couldn't be brought inside the emergency shelter, however, he is sleeping on cardboard and blankets that have been laid out on the floor of the classroom.

While Kikuko has been changing his diapers, caring for him at night has been difficult due to the loss of electricity. And while his bathing is normally taken care of through day service care, wiping him down with a wet cloth is now all that Kikuko can manage.

"How long is this going to go on?" she asked, as she contemplated the uncertainty of their situation.

Tomiko Baba, 84, a resident of Kumamoto's Higashi Ward who has Parkinson's disease, evacuated by car to the gymnasium of a local junior high school together with her daughter Kyoko, 50, with whom she lives, after furniture in their home toppled over in the earthquake that occurred in the early hours of April 16.

"She's unstable emotionally, and seems to be unable to relax and get to sleep," her daughter commented, saying that they had spent the night in their car.

Baba, who uses a wheelchair, notes that it is difficult to use the toilets at the emergency shelter. "I am trying not to use the bathroom," she commented. "And I just want a place where I can lay down and rest."

The Kumamoto Municipal Government opened 10 shelters on April 16 that would be easier for individuals with disabilities to navigate, but as of April 17, only 13 people were utilizing them. The reason appears to be a lack of knowledge about their existence, so municipal officials are going around regular emergency shelters to inform disabled evacuees.

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