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Tsunami survivors: Living in limbo with no savings

 

Kuni Takahashi for msnbc.com

Fukuko Hatakeyama, 81, poses at her temporary house in Kesennuma, Miyagi, Japan on Feb 6, 2012. The 2011 tsunami swept away her house and all her belongings, including all her cash savings.

Kuni Takahashi reports:

Fukuko Hatakeyama, 81, is living in temporary housing in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture. The tsunami that hit northern Japan on March 11, 2011 swept away her house and all her belongings, including her cash savings.

 “Since I was sick with cold and my legs were weak, my son told me not to go back to the house but I kept sneaking out (to look for the missing money)," said Hatakeyama, who ended up spending four months in the hospital after injuring her back while sifting through the debris. She never found any of the missing money.

Kuni Takahashi

Fukuko Hatakeyama weeps near the debris of her house in Kesennuma, Miyagi, Japan on March 29, 2011, following a massive earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan on March 11, sweeping away her house and all her belongings.

The lot where her house once stood is in a zone where the city prohibited rebuilding because of the risk of another tsunami. In many coastal areas, the land sank as much as 3 to 6 feet, making it even more susceptible to flooding. Many residential plots will be converted to public and industrial spaces.

Hatakeyama went to the Kesennuma city office to find out about her land.  “I complained to them that it’s my land and you can’t change it into park," she said. "But they even don’t know what’s happening and how long it’ll take to make a plan.”

Many residents are living in temporary houses built by the government, including Fukuko Hatakeyama and her husband Kojiro Hatakeyama, 83, who had been living in a nursing home prior to the tsunami. The expectation is that they will be allowed to extend their  tenancy beyond the planned two to three years because many will not be able to find new land to build on or new homes to move to. Meanwhile, though they are not paying rent for their temporary home, there has been no compensation or plans for their land and nearly a year later, they are still living in limbo.

 “I don’t know anyone outside of my town," Hatakeyama said. "At this age, where can I go with my sick husband staying in bed?”

 “When I'm sleeping, sometimes I have to sing a song. Otherwise I feel like I'm going crazy. My husband liked to hear me singing but I can’t sing as well as I used to …”

 

Kuni Takahashi, a photojournalist based in Mumbai, returned to his native Japan in 2011 shortly after the earthquake and tsunami. He recently revisited some of the people he met there— as well as some of the people that msnbc.com profiled in its After the Wave series -- to find out how they were doing nearly a year after the devastating natural disaster.

Kuni Takahashi for msnbc.com

Fukuko Hatakeyama, 81, front, lives with her bedridden husband in a temporary house in Kesennuma, Miyagi, Japan.

Kuni Takahashi for msnbc.com

A fishing ship remains on the ground among the foundations of homes in Kesennuma, Miyagi, Japan on Feb 6, 2012. A Massive earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan on March 11, 2011, sweeping away many coastal towns like this, killing over 15,000 and 3,000 are still missing.