229,000 still evacuees 4 years after Japan quake

229,000 still evacuees 4 years after Japan quake
Yuriko Shimizu, who is blind, lives in a temporary housing unit by herself in Sendai.

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

According to the National Police Agency, the number of deaths directly resulting from the disaster, including the tsunami it generated, is 15,891 in 12 prefectures, while the number of people missing was 2,584 as of Tuesday.

According to the Reconstruction Agency, about 229,000 people still live as evacuees, and in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, as of the end of February, about 80,000 of them were living mainly in prefabricated temporary housing units.

Disabled stuck in temporary housing

"If I fail again to win the lottery to get into public housing, I won't have anyplace to go," said Yuriko Shimizu, a 60-year-old blind woman who lives alone in a temporary housing unit in Taihaku Ward, Sendai.

Before she entered temporary housing, her relatives looked for an apartment for her, but every landlord rejected her as a tenant, saying there was a possibility that a person with a visual impairment could accidentally cause a fire.

In June 2011, after losing her house in the Great East Japan Earthquake, Shimizu entered the temporary housing unit. She often bumps into walls and furniture as the room is small.

It is not easy for her to operate the cooling and warming options of the air conditioner because the unit has no audio-assist system.

She does not have close ties with any of the other residents of the building. Instead, she talks to a caregiver who visits her place three times a week.

Shimizu has entered the lottery to get into public housing for the disaster-affected twice, but failed to win both times.

Thinking, "Disabled and elderly people are supposed to be given priority as tenants," she appealed to the municipal government through a welfare support group.

The government answered, "We can't build a community with only such people."

Many disabled people affected by the disaster have no choice but to continue living in temporary housing units with all of their inconvenience and uncertainty even after four years have passed since the disaster occurred.

Though they want to move to public housing for disaster victims, they face an uphill battle.

In Miyagi Prefecture, due to a lack of personnel and other reasons, three municipalities cannot fully comprehend the actual scope of the problem, such as the number of disabled people or if they live in temporary housing.

As Shimizu cannot drive a car, she hopes that after her third attempt at the lottery she will be able to live in public housing for victims near an urban area and a train station.

According to Miyagi Prefecture, 35,332 people were living in temporary housing units in 13 cities and towns in the prefecture, as of the end of January.

Of them, 10 cities and towns have determined that 1,777 disabled people are living in temporary housing in their jurisdictions

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