Water restored to hospital week after Tohoku quake

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A staff member placed buckets next to the main entrance to store rainwater at Miyagi National Hospital in Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture, on Feb. 16.

Saturday marked one week since the latest large earthquake struck off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, recording a maximum of upper 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7.

At Miyagi National Hospital in Yamamoto, Miyagi Prefecture, where the water supply was cut off for six days due to the quake, staff members went back and forth between water trucks with plastic jugs in their hands, and asked their nearly 260 patients to make do with emergency food from cans and reheatable retort pouches. The hospital has been working to perform repairs with the aim of resuming outpatient treatment on Monday.

“We can finally stop worrying about water,” said a relieved staff member on Friday, as running water flowed out of a first sink tap.

Although no patients were injured when the tremor struck late at night on Feb. 13, sprinkler pipes in the ceiling were broken, dousing blood pressure monitors and equipment used to create electronic patient records. Outpatient services were suspended the next day.

Interruption of the water supply posed the greatest problem. At one point, 2,900 households, or 60% of all households in the town, were without water.

The hospital began serving emergency rations on disposable Styrofoam plates, another measure to conserve the precious water brought by the city’s water trucks every three or four hours. When it rained on Feb. 15, 20 buckets were set up at the entrance to store rainwater for operating the toilets.

Since bathing was not possible, staff wiped down patients with damp towels and hurriedly purchased dry shampoo. These water woes were compounded by the need for careful disinfection to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Many of the hospital’s patients are those with Parkinson’s disease, ALS, and other intractable illnesses, as well as children with disabilities who had already been unable to see their families amid the pandemic. And then the earthquake struck.

Megumi Ono, head nurse, said, “Some of the patients were suffering from insomnia and exhibiting other symptoms of stress.” Staff stepped up the frequency of their rounds to visit patients and help alleviate anxiety.

The hospital is now ready to receive general outpatients. It will take some time to repair the emergency entrance, but they plan to start accepting emergency patients using another entrance. Yuji Osaka, chief of the administration section, said, “I think [having the hospital back] will give the local community peace of mind.”