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Residents of disaster-hit southern Hokkaido begin cleanup after quake

Machiko Yamada looks over the scattered tableware and appliances in her kitchen after the earthquake, which even sent items flying from her refrigerator and cabinets, in Atsuma, Hokkaido, on Sept. 9, 2018. (Mainichi)

ATSUMA, Hokkaido -- In areas here heavily hit by an earthquake measuring a maximum 7 on the Japanese 7-point seismic intensity scale, residents are beginning to pick up the pieces after the temblor and landslides damaged their homes.

Many people have now returned from evacuation centers to their homes and are going back to work, exhaustion already showing when faced with the mountain of household items scattered about their homes in the disaster.

Thirty minutes of cleaning is followed by 10 minutes on the couch. Rinse and repeat. A total of 19 homes were completely destroyed by landslides in the town of Atsuma, in southern Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost prefecture. Machiko Yamada, 68, separates clothing that she can salvage and items to toss out in one room of her home. In the kitchen, shattered dishes and other tableware that fell from the cabinets and shelves litter the floor, and in one area of the bathroom, liquid detergent has leaked all over the floor. "I wonder if there will be an end to this," she said with a sigh.

Yamada lives with her 71-year-old husband. Neither was injured in the huge quake, but cracks run along the outer walls of their home built some 40 years earlier, and the windows have shattered. The block wall that extends in front of the entrance of their house collapsed, and almost all drawers and tableware shelves fell over in the shaking. The toilet was detached from the floor, rendering it useless, so the couple had no choice but to head for an evacuation center.

They return to their home during the day, but after Yamada's husband suffered from a stroke that left him with limited vision and mobility, he cannot help her with the cleanup. On days that her son and relatives who live far away cannot make the journey to help her, she has no choice but to work alone. "I want to return to a regular life as soon as possible," she said.

In the adjacent town of Abira, 11 houses were either partially or completely destroyed. While Yoshio Iwai, 70, who runs the local electronics store was unhurt in the quake, his 40-year-old residence, which doubles as his store, was not as lucky. Cracks have entered the concrete foundation of the house, and the ceiling in the bathroom has fallen in. Shards of glass from the doors of his tableware cabinets are scattered about.

"My mind just went blank -- I have no idea where to start cleaning this up," he said. Iwai and his wife began to clean on Sept. 6, the day the earthquake shook their home, but residents came to their shop hoping to buy batteries and electronics. Iwai even got requests to repair the broken antenna on a television. Wrapped up in work at the shop, he and his wife have been unable to make any headway in cleaning their home.

"We would like help, but in the end, we're the only ones who can decide what should be kept and what should be thrown out. In the end, it's something we can only do ourselves," Iwai mumbled as he looked at the large number of his beloved books fallen from their shelves onto the floor.

(Japanese original by Hironori Tsuchie, City News Department)

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