Noto Peninsula Earthquake: Transporting Evacuees out of Disaster-Stricken Areas A Realistic Option

Evacuees remain in a severe situation, with goods in short supply and running water still cut off in disaster-stricken areas. In anticipation of people having to live as evacuees for a prolonged time, wide-area evacuation should also be promoted, in which people who wish to leave are transported to locations outside the afflicted areas.

It has been 10 days since a massive earthquake hit the areas in and around the Noto Peninsula. Violent jolts and tsunami destroyed many houses, and there are now more than 20,000 evacuees in Ishikawa Prefecture.

The affected areas are still short of water, food and other supplies, as many roads have become impassable. Efforts to restore such infrastructure as water and electricity have not made significant progress, and running water and electricity continue to be cut off.

Under these circumstances, it will be difficult to construct temporary housing in the affected areas. The Ishikawa prefectural government intends to secure facilities in Kanazawa and other less damaged areas, and transport evacuees who wish to stay there.

Aftershocks continue in the affected areas, and evacuation centers are very cold. Evacuees are exhausted by the uncertain outlook for their lives. Temporarily leaving the disaster-stricken areas and relocating to places where they can live with peace of mind can be said to be a realistic option for them.

It is also necessary to increase the number of facilities deemed to be evacuation centers that local governments rent as shelters, such as hotels and ryokan Japanese-style inns. It is hoped that local governments will establish close contact with people who have left their hometowns so they can keep informed about the situation in the afflicted areas.

However, there must be many people who do not want to leave the places they are familiar with. For those who remain in evacuation centers in the affected areas, it is necessary to prepare cardboard beds and partitions to protect their privacy to alleviate the harshness of evacuation life, even if only slightly.

Due to the suspension of running water, the sanitary conditions at evacuation centers have worsened. Since people are crowded together, COVID-19 and other infectious diseases are spreading.

There are also concerns about the stress caused by living in evacuation centers and the worsening of chronic illnesses. “Economy-class syndrome” is also worrisome — this condition involves blood clots forming when people remain in the same posture for a long time, for example, by staying overnight in a car.

Measures to prevent disaster-related deaths that occur during evacuation, despite averting harm directly caused by earthquakes, will also be important. It is vital to establish a system in which public health nurses and others with expertise in hygiene management are dispatched to evacuation centers and elsewhere to provide guidance on how to prevent infectious diseases and maintain good health.

Hospitals in the affected areas are busy treating the injured. Hospital beds are scarce, and doctors and other medical personnel are exhausted. The medical care system must be maintained by transferring patients who can be moved to other hospitals and by cooperating closely with medical teams that have rushed to the afflicted areas from all over Japan.

Elementary, junior high and high schools began their third semester, but there is no prospect of classes resuming in the areas that have been battered by earthquakes. Entrance exam season is just around the corner. Support for children is another issue that must not be forgotten.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 10, 2024)