Japan quake: Inside the evacuation zone

People still living in the area are forced to queue for rations. Pic: Dai Saito
Image caption Rationing has becoming part of life for those inside the evacuation zone.

Dai Saito lives in Haramachi-ku in Minamisouma, a town inside the 20-30km "stay indoors" zone around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. As engineers work to stabilise overheating fuel at the plant, he describes the situation on the ground.

Tuesday, 29 March

I am still in the area. Once my mother decided to stay I knew I could not leave her. However I never imagined the situation would become so serious.

Image caption The effects of the earthquake can still be seen around the region

My mother remains fine. However, she has a chronic disease in her thyroid gland and she is worried about the effects of any radiation because it is in iodine vapour and, our understanding is, that this is something the thyroid would normally deal with.

There are still not enough fuel or relief supplies but some shops are gradually opening and, as long as we don't want a luxurious life, we can get on quite modestly.

My life has calmed down considerably compared to immediately after the earthquake but we still need relief supplies.

Rice, bread and emergency rice (onigiri), drinking water, petrol and kerosene are all rationed.

But we don't get enough daily necessities like toilet rolls which we would normally get from shops.

And although we get fuel rations they are usually not enough for us and even if we knew some garages were open we need petrol to get there and negotiate the queues. But many people don't have enough petrol for this.

We also find out information relayed by the council later than we perhaps should.

Before this happened, I ran a football school for children but I lost my job because everyone ran away from here. However, I am glad my students are all safe

This is my life now. We can't live a 'relatively normal' life if we stay inside our house for too long but also, I have to worry about my health when we have to go outside to pick up the rations.

The nuclear power plant is a worry. When will this situation end and what will happen now?

I don't have confidence in the government's actions especially because I am in the area that has been ambiguously designated the "Indoor Evacuation Zone" ( although apparently they are now encouraging voluntary evacuations from here too).

Indoor evacuation makes no sense because you cannot stay at home all the time. It makes me wonder if this is a ploy by the government to avoid responsibility if we all suffer health issues as a result of radiation exposure - I suppose they could argue that they had informed us not to go out. One just has to laugh...

My thoughts on the government haven't changed. In fact, it has become stronger. Two weeks have passed since the earthquake struck but nothing has improved; the timing of press conferences, their reports on the status of the nuclear power plant, etc.

It angers me that that they are putting much effort into covering up and making deliberately ambiguous statements. We now know that some of the reports were at least a day old at the time of disclosure. Even today, they reported the finding of plutonium at a press conference that was held in the middle of the night.

Image caption Dai Saito says people whose homes survived can't spend their entire day inside.

The fact that our lives are in danger right at this minute is apparently less important than the number crunching they seem to do in a safe office far away.

I personally think this accident at the nuclear power plant is, at least partly, a man-made disaster therefore it is Tepco's duty to hold a press conference and report the facts.

However, they have been releasing reports that don't give us accurate pictures and at such times that no one would be awake to see them.

One cannot help but think they are deliberately trying to tell very little to people like us who live in the area.

Tepco has done nothing around the devastated area. I saw a TV news report on the vice president apologising to people at the evacuation shelters, but that is about all.

I am not aware of any actual aid organised by Tepco. The president and the chairman of Tepco have not been seen in public since the earthquake. I demand prompt disclosure of information and immediate relief for the people in the stricken area.

Friday, 18 March

"I find out information on the arrival of relief goods via Twitter.

If you have the information then you can pass this on to your friends and relatives in, for example, Haramachi-ku, Minami-Soma-shi.

But for people without access to Twitter they miss out on information such as when to start queuing at the petrol station because information about when the petrol station is going to open and when they are going to get their deliveries is disseminated via Twitter.

My neighbours are behaving in various different ways. Although we have been instructed to stay indoors, some people are out walking in the streets normally, some people are even sunbathing. Of course they all wear masks, but not all of them stay indoors.

Image caption Police wearing respirators tried to guide people away from the Daiichi nuclear plant

If there is an order to evacuate by the government then we will evacuate but basically we want to stay at home, because of the love for our home town. We have a strong desire to reconstruct our home town, and we want to stay here.

My mother doesn't want to leave her home, and will only agree to leave if the evacuation is temporary and if I promise her we can come back later.

There are no goods because all the shops are closed. We don't like to waste petrol so we cannot go anywhere, we simply have to stay at home.

There is a sense here that the crisis is fading. Everything looks normal as if there is no radiation crisis, except for the news."

Thursday, 17 March

"My mother and I are staying in my house which is within the 20-30km evacuation zone near the nuclear power station, where people have been ordered to take shelter.

Since the earthquake struck, we haven't had enough supplies - not only petrol but basic necessities. We do have electricity, gas and fresh water, although the water isn't very clean.

It is more serious in the shelters and hospitals. The mayor of Minamisouma said that the lorries refused to come into the area with supplies and I think that he is right. The drivers and logistics operators are not reaching the area because they think it is "contaminated".

The order for the evacuation was issued on 14 or 15 March. The evacuation zone has been gradually widened.

Image caption Dai Saito took this image of some of the thousands of homes destroyed along Japan's coastline

Initially the evacuation was on a voluntary basis. We were not ordered to make our own way out of the city.

Instead representatives from the local authority drove around the district urging residents to stay inside their homes, warning those who did decide to evacuate that it would be at their own risk.

All the garages around Minamisouma had closed by early evening the day after the earthquake. Petrol was diverted to the emergency relief effort. No fuel was made available to civilians. Only state vehicles could access the pumps.

The queues at supermarkets for two days after the quake were horrendous. I just wanted some fast food from a grocery store but I gave up after seeing the queues.

Many shops soon ran out of things to sell and almost all supermarkets and grocery stores were shut by 14 March.

We've got enough food for two because my mother stocked up on the day before the earthquake.

The reason I don't evacuate is that we lack petrol but actually my mother would not want to leave here even if we could. Of course I don't want to leave either but I don't want to die.

The people who managed to leave the area have to have tests to get a certificate of radiation exposure, to confirm they are safe.

Often, privately funded shelters do not accept people without the certificate. On the other hand, public shelters often cannot accept all the refugees because of their limited capacity.

The current evacuation sites were initially for the victims and potential victims of tsunami. However, the situation changed as the state of the nuclear plant got worse by day.

Honestly speaking, government press releases have been useless.

The delivery of aid material has been insufficient since the onset of the disaster, and the delayed press releases saying 'The situation was this, so we did this' really haven't helped anyone who needed to understand the crisis as it happened."

This article was produced with the assistance of Mayumi Geater