Tsunami victims still waiting for new homes

Tsunami victims still waiting for new homes

A brawl between two men has just been broken up and arguments are reaching fever pitch when Mr Fumio Miura steps up to the microphone.

Addressing the 150-strong crowd, comprising many of his former neighbours and a panel of Ishinomaki city officials, the 58-year-old says: "We are all sufferers here. We've lost everything and now the city wants to take our land?"

Mr Miura, a resident of Ishinomaki's Mitsumata district - one of the areas worst-hit by the 2011 tsunami - was speaking at a town hall meeting where city officials unveiled reconstruction plans. Housing is a hot potato at such meetings, and arguments sometimes escalate into fisticuffs.

The source of the anger and impatience is the delay in rebuilding that has left many still homeless two years after the disaster. Many projects like that in Mitsumata district are still only in the planning stages, and the unhappiness here is that the plans may cause residents to lose up to 7 per cent of their land without any compensation.

There were about 300 homes in the district before the disaster. Now only a handful stand among vacant lots less than 2km from the coast.

Most of the 800 residents are still in temporary housing complexes in Ishinomaki, where living conditions are cramped and stressful. Some, like Mr Miura, could not stand the conditions and have rebuilt their houses themselves.

"Some of us have returned to the same location to build our houses, not because we don't want to relocate to a safer place, but because we have no choice - land elsewhere is expensive," said Mr Miura, who paid 30 million yen (S$390,000) to rebuild his two-storey house where he lives with his wife and two children.

Most cannot afford to do the same thing and have to wait for government assistance. Earlier this year, the Japanese government had to extend the number of years residents could stay in temporary housing from three to four years after the disaster. Under Japan's disaster relief law, residents are allowed to stay in emergency housing for only two years.

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