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Weary Japanese Evacuees Wait For Information

Yamano Satoshi is now a disaster coordinator, instead of assistant principal, at  the Aizu Kogyo Koko high school in Aizuwakamatsu, which has become a shelter.
Doualy Xaykaothao for NPR
Yamano Satoshi is now a disaster coordinator, instead of assistant principal, at the Aizu Kogyo Koko high school in Aizuwakamatsu, which has become a shelter.

The city of Aizuwakamatsu sits in a basin about 60 miles west of Japan's severely crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. The city is surrounded by snowy mountains and is known locally for its samurai traditions and ancient castle.

And now, it's home to about 5,000 evacuees.

In a small evacuation center at a technical high school called Aizu Kogyo Koko, no one is watching as The Lion King's credits roll. Only about 75 people are registered at this shelter, and there's probably no audience because the volunteers have played it too many times.

There are 446 other shelters in the Fukushima prefecture similar to this one, with about 131,000 evacuees.

Yamano Satoshi, the assistant principal at the school, looks almost like Mr. Rogers, with thick eyebrows and a big sweater. He's taken on the role of disaster coordinator. It's not his usual job, but it's an emergency, he says.

Satoshi says it's psychologically and physically exhausting. He says he's trying to do the best he can — properly, orderly.

At first, he says, everyone was glued to the television, afraid of a nuclear meltdown following the earthquake and tsunami. People were heavy-hearted. But little by little, it's gotten better, he stresses. It's important that people see him being calm, he says, because it helps them stay calm.

Fear And Exhaustion

Just beyond the rustle of volunteers emptying the trash sit Yoshiro and Yukie Tadano and their three kids. They evacuated from Minamisoma, north of Tomioka. Ten-year-old Atsumi Tadano, their youngest child, explains they didn't leave their home because of the tsunami or earthquake.

"Because of the radiation," she says through an interpreter.

The Tadano family has been here for five days. They're exhausted. Asked if she needs anything, Atsumi nods her head.

"She needs novels," the interpreter says.

Her parents say what they need most right now is gasoline — and clear information.

A Lack Of Information

A volunteer physical therapist gives Haruko Seino a massage. Her knees have been badly hurting since she arrived at the shelter three days ago from the coastal city of Futaba, right near the nuclear complex.

She says she wants to stay a long time, if possible, but she doesn't know the situation.

And that's the problem now: Evacuees just don't have enough information to make a decision about what's to come, and what do next.

Until then, Satoshi, the assistant principal turned disaster coordinator, must keep following what he calls the Japanese spirit.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Doualy Xaykaothao is a newscaster and reporter for NPR, based in Culver City. She returned to NPR for this role in 2018, and is responsible for writing, producing, and delivering national newscasts. She also reports on breaking news stories for NPR.