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    One year after Niigata quake

    This story from the Asahi English edition doesn’t have much detail, but it’s a helpful reminder that, even in First World countries, major earthquakes cause disruptions that last long after the news cameras leave:

    A year ago Sunday the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake hit, leaving 51 people dead and thousands injured. One year later, more than 9,100 victims still live in temporary housing.

    Many are battling financial and other difficulties and have yet to complete rebuilding work. About 1,000 households have abandoned such plans or say they have no prospect yet of rebuilding their homes that were lost in the Oct. 23, 2004, temblor.

    With a second snowy winter looming, an estimated 400 households in the former Yamakoshi village, now part of Nagaoka city, and other communities in Niigata Prefecture are still subject to evacuation orders or advisories.

    The English story combines information from these two stories. The Yomiuri conducted a poll and found that 44% of those still living in temporary housing have no plans to rebuild their houses. Most of the people affected are from a relatively small, particularly hard-hit area in Niigata Prefecture.

    For its part, the Mainichi surveyed municipalities affected by last year’s series of quakes. (Most articles talk about a single “earthquake,” but there were actually three or four strong ones in rapid succession.)

    The Kawaguchi Municipal Government that came under fire for failing to incorporate earthquake countermeasures in its disaster prevention plan admitted that it has not yet begun reviewing it.

    “Multiple divisions must be involved in reviewing the plan. It’s impossible for local governments that have fewer officials to quickly review their disaster prevention plan even if it’s necessary,” an official of the town’s general affairs division said.

    Nine municipalities are now storing water in case of a devastating disaster, an increase from four in the pre-quake period. Fourteen municipalities have stockpiled emergency food, as compared with 10 before the Niigata quake.

    However, only seven municipalities, or 25 percent, have stockpiled both water and emergency food.

    Only four municipalities have set up a system under which they provide subsidies to local residents to examine whether and how far their houses are quake-resistant and two others are prepared to provide subsidies to residents to make their houses quake-proof. Many of the municipalities that have no such subsidy systems cite their severe financial situations.

    Only six of them have introduced satellite mobile phones and other communication devices in case their areas are isolated from surrounding areas.

    Niigata Prefecture is not an earthquake hot zone in Japanese terms. However, as we saw last year, the low probability of a devastating quake is offset by the fact that many people live in remote villages on landslide-prone ground that makes destruction likely and rescue operations difficult. When a quake does eventually hit, people are in big trouble.

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