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Six years ago, the residents of the Japanese coastal region of Honshu became the reluctant subjects of international headlines when they were visited by unprecedented disaster upon disaster.
The region was first struck by a devastating earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale which triggered miles of crushing tsunamis which tore into the homes and businesses scattered across the shoreline as though they were paper.
It was the tsunami that sparked the meltdown of Fukushima’s nuclear power plant which contaminated the entire area and is still causing serious repercussions to this day. While most of the damage to the power station was incurred in one horrifying moment, it is estimated that it will take forty years to properly contain.
While the environmental and economic impact of the catastrophe has been covered at length in the press, there have been very few pieces about the social trauma incurred during this dreadful time. Six years after the disaster, what has happened to the people in the region?
At the time that the waves of tsunamis struck the Japanese coastline around 300,000 local people were evacuated for their safety. Around 100,000 of these people are still living as evacuees in temporary housing which was intended to be used for a mere two years.
Some of these individuals hail from the town of Futaba, which lies in the shadow of the nuclear power station and remains in the exclusion zone. While residents are permitted to go to their previous homes for up to five hours every day this is an offer that very few people have actually taken up. For the people that lived through the disaster of 2011, the trauma is still very fresh. Naturally, they have no desire to relive the horrific events that robbed them of their homes, their livelihoods, their sense of security and, of course, their family members and friends.
The result of this is that Futaba has essentially become a ghost town and eerie capsule of the recent past. Walking through the streets, laundry from the day the tsunami struck can still be seen on the clothes lines. One can look through the windows of the empty shops and see unsold merchandise piled high with layers of dust and spiders webs. Most of the calendars in the town still bear that date of March 2011.
The people of Futaba are not the only ones who are avoiding returning to their former homes. The town of Nambie, which lies four kilometers away from the nuclear power station, is expected to be declared to safe to inhabit once more at the end of the month. However, government polling has suggested that the majority of former residents will not move back to their old town, citing safety concerns.