1 month after Hokkaido quake, many still in shelters

SAPPORO, Japan (The Japan News/ANN) - Many people are still in shelters a month after an earthquake measuring the maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale hit Hokkaido.

According to the Hokkaido prefectural government, 462 survivors are living in 13 evacuation centers across five municipalities as of 10:30 a.m. Friday, and 291 of them have evacuated to seven locations in the town of Atsuma, where 48 houses are still without water.

In Kiyota Ward, Sapporo, where ground liquefaction was reported, 1,452 houses were said to have suffered damage as of Wednesday, forcing many of the occupants to take shelter at the homes of relatives and other places, where they still remain.

The real restoration effort is expected to start in spring of next year, or later, as the winter snow season approaches, and it will be some time before the residents get back to normal life.

“I wouldn’t have bought this land if I’d have known it was going to be like this,” a 66-year-old company employee from the ward’s Satozuka district griped.

Renovations on the secondhand house he bought about 20 years ago were completed on Aug. 30, but the home was knocked way off its foundation in the quake and has been determined to be collapsed.

The man is currently staying at his daughter’s house, but he and his wife plan to move into a temporary dwelling — private housing rented out by municipalities — sometime this month, at the earliest.

“I’m relieved to be able to find a place to live in before it gets cold,” he said, although his anxiety about the future remains.

“It’ll be difficult to get a loan at my age, even if I want to rebuild the house. But I can’t do a thing unless detailed support measures and land restoration plans are laid out.”

In Kiyota Ward, 45 houses collapsed, 89 are seriously damaged and 1,318 partially damaged. The Satozuka district, in particular, saw cave-ins and cracks in roads, and entry is allowed — for residents — only in some areas. Many of them are still staying with relatives or in other locations.

Damage concentrated along river

Kiyota Ward was developed as a residential area in the 1970s as a result of a spike in population in Sapporo.

Following land development permission from the Sapporo city government, a private company developed a piece of land measuring about 9 hectares, that includes quake-affected areas in the Satozuka district, by reclaiming agricultural land and other areas in 1978 and 1979, and the river that ran through the area became an underground drain. Experts say the damage was concentrated along this river.

Hokkaido University Prof. Yoichi Watabe, who specializes in geotechnical engineering, conducted a field study and said: “The area used to be one where a river or rice paddies were located and the level of the groundwater was high, meaning its soil was soft. The land apparently was filled with water-absorbent volcanic cohesive soil, and it came with a high risk of liquefaction.”

The city government since 2009 has published an earthquake hazard map indicating the degree of risk of liquefaction and other disasters in each region. A detailed map was presented in 2016, outlining the degree of danger based on residential blocks.

A 43-year-old male company employee, whose house came off its foundation because of the quake, only learned that the area had a high risk of liquefaction after he had purchased the home. “I just can’t believe land like this was sold as a place for housing,” he said.