Noto Quake Evacuees Urged to Leave Secondary Sites Soon; Hotels Want to Free Up Rooms Ahead of Tourist Surge

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People taking shelter at a secondary evacuation site in Kaga, Ishikawa Prefecture, are briefed by prefectural government officials on Wednesday.

KAGA, Ishikawa — The Ishikawa prefectural government has begun briefings for people taking shelter at secondary evacuation sites, such as hotels and inns, in the aftermath of the major earthquake that hit the Noto Peninsula on New Year’s Day.

In the briefing, the prefecture presented evacuees with four options, including moving into temporary housing units. Evacuees were also told that their stays at the current secondary evacuation sites will end in February or March.

However, the prefecture has yet to secure enough units of temporary housing, the option in greatest demand among evacuees.

The prefectural government plans to interview more than 5,000 people at secondary evacuation centers to learn their wishes.

On the first day of the briefings on Wednesday, participants expressed anxiety and confusion.

“You’ll be able to stay here until early March,” a prefectural government official told a group of 210 evacuees at a luxury hotel in the Yamashiro hot spring resort in Kaga, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the prefecture. The hotel is accommodating more than 300 evacuees, the largest number among secondary evacuation sites.

The prefectural government presented the following four options in the briefing session:

■ Temporary housing in their hometowns

■ Private-sector rental accommodation funded by the prefectural government

■ Public housing

■ Repairing their houses and returning home

An overwhelming number of evacuees wish to move into temporary housing. The prefectural government plans to have started construction on 3,000 units of such housing by the end of March, but this is far short of the more than 7,000 applications received.

Many of the available private-sector rental accommodations and public housing facilities are located outside the prefecture, so evacuees who wish to stay near their hometowns are likely to disfavor such accommodations.

Questionnaires were distributed to the participants at the briefing session, and evacuees were asked to submit them in about a week.

Some evacuees looked perplexed after the meeting.

“I’ve just settled down here,” said a 65-year-old self-employed man from Suzu in the prefecture, who finally came to the hotel after staying in three different shelters. “It’ll be difficult to find a job if I have to move to somewhere away from my hometown. I feel like crying.”

A 60-year-old hospital office worker from Wajima in the prefecture also expressed anxiety. “I want to repair our damaged house and live there with my father. But there are no prospects as to when a disaster victim certificate will be issued,” she said. “I cannot make a decision in just a week.”

The prefectural government has been calling on people to move from local government-run shelters to secondary evacuation sites to prevent disaster-related deaths.

The number of people staying at secondary evacuation centers totaled 5,209 as of Wednesday, according to the prefecture. While there are 243 such secondary evacuation centers, many of them plan to stop housing evacuees in February and March.

The prefecture needs to urge evacuees to move out of hotels and inns partly because of the scheduled opening of an extension of the Hokuriku Shinkansen line between Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture’s capital, and Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, on March 16.

The hotel industry’s expectations for the new Shinkansen service are high, as tourism was hard hit during the coronavirus pandemic. Hotels and inns apparently wish to start preparations for an expected increase in the number of tourists as soon as possible. If they must house evacuees longer, their business might be affected.

“We are concerned whether tourists, who will come here to refresh themselves, can feel relaxed in a place with evacuees,” said a source close to a ryokan operator in the prefecture. “Of course, we cannot tell evacuees, who managed to arrive here with [nothing but] hand luggage, to leave.”