Volunteers join cleanup in quake-hit Tohoku areas

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Volunteers clean up a kitchen floor covered with shards of broken items in Kunimi, Fukushima Prefecture, on Saturday.

Some municipal governments in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures that suffered damage from Wednesday night’s earthquake began Saturday accepting volunteers for the cleanup effort.

The powerful quake registered up to upper 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale from 0 to 7.

The volunteers are being restricted to local residents as a measure to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Despite their limited numbers, the volunteers have been active in the cleanup work, such as by removing debris from damaged houses.

In Kunimi, Fukushima Prefecture, where upper 6 tremors were recorded, the town government opened a volunteer center. As of 5 p.m. Saturday, the center had received 25 requests for help mainly from elderly people and those who live alone.

Though the town government wants as much help as possible, it is feared that COVID-19 infections may spread if many people enter the town. For now, only town residents can become volunteers and they must register in advance. Seven people have registered as volunteers, and a nonprofit organization based outside the prefecture will offer assistance as well.

Volunteers were among a group of people who visited the home of a 51-year-old resident to remove debris such as fallen walls, glass from broken windows and dishes that shattered.

“Now I can sleep in peace,” the resident said.

One of the volunteers, a third-year university student, said, “If someone is in need nearby, I want to help in any way possible.”

In Yabuki, another town in the prefecture where upper 5 tremors were felt, local resident volunteers began their activities by helping to clean up two residences where elderly people live alone.

According to the prefectural social welfare council, more municipal governments — Koriyama, Sukagawa and Minami-Soma — are accepting volunteers to help affected residents.