Noto Peninsula Earthquake – 3 Months Later / Demolition Efforts Lagging 3 Months After Japan Quake, Prompting Many Residents to Leave Hometowns

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Collpased homes and temporary housing are seen in Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture, on Sunday.

Three months after the Noto Peninsula Earthquake struck on New Year’s Day, collapsed houses remain throughout the quake-hit area, prompting many people to move away from their hometowns. Ground levels have risen at fishing ports, and no one knows when they will be able to reopen. How can the Noto region find a foothold for reconstruction? This is the first installment of a series that examines some of the problems the area is facing.

In the Shoin district of Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture, houses that are leaning to one side, or whose first floors have collapsed, remain untouched. Along the main street lined with homes, there is almost no one in sight.

“What will become of this town?” murmured Shizuko Mae, 79, who had come back to see her house, a two-story wooden structure built more than 50 years ago.

Mae started living in the house right after getting married to her husband, now 84, and they raised their three children there. She said she was happiest when she served vegetables that she had grown in the backyard to visiting friends and grandchildren.

The earthquake robbed her of that life. The house resisted the strong tremor, saving her and her husband’s lives, but rooftiles have crumbled down, and there are holes here and there in the floor. The house was certified by the town as destroyed.

Many other houses in the neighborhood were also destroyed or damaged. On March 28, a neighbor who used to live across the road told Mae they could no longer stay in Suzu. They bade each other farewell in tears.

Many other friends have left the city, too, but Mae is determined to stay.

“I’ll stay here,” she said. “I love the farmland, the flowers and the sea. I want to build a small house here.”

However, there is still no prospect of the first step: a time schedule for the demolition of her damaged house.

Hundreds a month

As many as 75,000 houses and buildings were damaged or destroyed by the earthquake in Ishikawa Prefecture’s 19 cities and towns. The prefectural government estimates 22,000 will be cleared away under the publicly funded demolition system, but work has only started in the town of Noto.

Under the system, municipal governments who have received applications from homeowners bear the cost of clearing away collapsed houses, to promote recovery in disaster-stricken areas.

Houses that are in danger of collapsing and need to be urgently demolished are also eligible for the funding. According to the Environment Ministry, there had been 131 Noto quake-related emergency demolitions as of March 27.

In anticipation of the enormous amount of work involved, the prefecture will organize 500 to 600 demolition teams consisting of four to five workers each and send them to various locations in a bid to finish by the end of October 2025.

In Suzu, where demolition is scheduled to begin this month, as many as 9,000 houses, including non-residences, were destroyed or severely damaged.

“We won’t be able to take care of them all if we don’t tear down as many as 300 a month,” Mayor Masuhiro Izumiya said.

However, it is not clear whether work will proceed as planned.

One obstacle is securing accommodations for demolition workers. There is a chronic shortage of lodging facilities in the Okunoto region due to the ongoing restoration of roads as well as water supply and sewerage systems.

“We’re considering building quarters exclusively for workers at demolition sites,” said an official of the prefectural association responsible for securing manpower for publicly funded demolition.

Another issue involves homeowners – they must be present for the final confirmation of collapsed houses before they are demolished. About 2,100 of residents of Wajima, where 7,700 houses were destroyed or damaged, are still staying at secondary evacuation facilities. “The start of demolitions might be delayed due to scheduling difficulties. I wonder whether the demolition will go smoothly,” a city official said.

The city must also dispose of the waste generated by the quake, which is estimated to be seven times the annual average produced in the prefecture.

‘I want to move forward’

Since the earthquake, Mae has been staying at an acquaintance’s house in Noto. She has visited her own home every day to clean up but will move into temporary housing in Suzu later this month.

On Monday, the city began accepting applications for publicly funded demolitions. Mae intends to apply soon, but wonders when the work will actually begin.

“It’s my dream to get together with everyone at my new place. I want to have my house demolished as soon as possible and move forward,” Mae said.

Itsuki Nakabayashi, a professor emeritus of Tokyo Metropolitan University and a scholar of disaster prevention, said it is essential to help residents return home from secondary evacuation sites and to share information on demolition work plans so that operations can proceed efficiently.

“The goal is reconstructing the area, and demolition is just the beginning. Residents will think their hometown is gone if there’s just more empty land. It’s important to share the process of reconstruction by also discussing what kind of town they want to build,” Nakabayashi said.