Gaining strength from the disaster

By Francis Markus, IFRC

Since coming through the triple disaster which devastated this part of north-east Japan and destroyed his house, Mikio Ara, 72, says: “I feel that my heart is much stronger; I am not afraid of anything now.”

The tsunami which followed a 9.0-magnitude earthquake destroyed Mikio’s house at Rachihama, on the Fukushima coastline.

“I had thought I might rebuild it, but soon after the tsunami, there came a typhoon which flooded the area and I realised that I could no longer live there, because it was too vulnerable,” he says.

He and his wife lived for more than two years in an old house a friend found for them, since Mr Ara’s asthma was causing him serious trouble in the evacuation centre, but last November, they were able to move into this housing project supported by the Red Cross Red Crescent and the local government.

Life returns to normal. Sort of.

Asked about life before and after the disaster, the former railway maintenance engineer – who looks younger than his years – says: “You can never compare the two. But now I don’t need to worry about where to live, my feelings have calmed down and I feel a sense of normality again. But life will never be the same as before.”

These days, his asthma is causing him much less trouble. And as one of the fittest members of the community, he has assumed the role of deputy chairman of the residents’ committee.

He points at the shop just a few dozen meters away and says that there’s a home centre and a hospital within easy walking distance, with another one to be built soon. “It’s very convenient here,” he says.

Community housing

Since one requirement for being accepted as a resident is that people should be from the local area, Mikio says many of the residents knew each other before moving in. “It’s called community housing but actually it isn’t much different from living by yourself in an apartment,” he says. “So you can only interact with people you want to interact with.”

Mikio and his wife are among five couples and 27 people in total living in the newly-constructed housing project.

For them, as for the single elderly residents – there is also one mother and son household, aged 100 and 80 respectively – this feels as though they have at last found a secure and comfortable place where they can put the disaster behind them.