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Editorial: Gov't must support Kumamoto quake evacuees from long-term perspective

A growing number of people are taking refuge at evacuation shelters in quake-hit areas of Kumamoto and Oita prefectures. About 45,000 people were staying at such shelters shortly after the initial temblor that struck on the night of April 14, but the number doubled to approximately 90,000 following the main quake in the early hours of April 16, and reportedly surged to nearly 200,000 by April 17.

People whose houses were destroyed or badly damaged have no choice but to flee to evacuation shelters. In areas where the quakes were strong, houses that appear intact may have actually sustained serious damage. Many people are also believed to be taking shelter due to fears of damage from aftershocks that continue to rattle their neighborhoods. The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) has announced that the number of earthquakes is on the rise in the southwestern Kumamoto region of Kumamoto Prefecture.

In the city of Kumamoto alone, the number of evacuees has surpassed 100,000 while nearly 8,000 are taking refuge in the town of Mashiki. Some evacuation shelters are unable to accommodate all evacuees.

It is feared that the evacuation of residents of quake-hit areas will be prolonged because there is no prospect of seismic activity subsiding in the foreseeable future, and it will take a long time to rebuild damaged houses.

First and foremost, government organizations should increase the capacity of evacuation shelters. If a municipality cannot secure enough evacuation shelters because public facilities such as schools and community centers have sustained damage, it will be necessary to secure shelters elsewhere.

Images of heavily congested shelters give a glimpse of the inconvenient and uncomfortable lives that evacuees face. Priority should be placed on maintaining evacuees' health, both mentally and physically. Special consideration should be given to the elderly and sick people.

A significant number of residents in disaster-hit areas are staying overnight in their cars at their homes or near evacuation shelters, exposing themselves to the risk of pulmonary embolisms from so-called "economy-class syndrome." Blood clots from remaining in the same position for a long time could also lead to respiratory illnesses.

In the 2004 Niigata Prefecture Chuetsu Earthquake, over half of the 68 victims died from pulmonary embolisms or as a result of worsening health after evacuating for long periods. Prolonged evacuation at gyms and other facilities where evacuees sleep on solid floors inflicts a heavy physical burden on evacuees. Government bodies should create an environment that will lessen the burden on elderly people and women with babies.

Water and power supplies have been cut off in many disaster-hit areas. Restoring these utilities is an urgent task. Some hospitals in disaster-hit areas are unable to perform dialysis treatment because water and power supplies have been severed. Numerous roads have been cut off because of landslides and cave-ins, blocking the transportation of relief supplies to areas affected by the temblors. The situation should be improved quickly.

As the transportation of various goods including foodstuffs has been hindered by the disaster, convenience stores and supermarkets in quake-hit areas are short of goods. Some stores have even been forced to close down. Retailing and transportation companies should place priority on securing goods for afflicted areas.

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