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Friday, May 13, 2011

Two Months After Disaster, Japanese See Slow Recovery


Here & Now Guest:

Two months after the earthquake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan, the country is still struggling to cope with the recovery effort, the BBC’s Roland Buerk told WBUR’s Here and Now.

Speaking from Tokyo, Buerk described the cleanup job as massive. “When you go to these places, there’s debris everywhere,” said Buerk. “There’s wreckage in enormous piles, four- or five-story buildings high, just mangled, splintered houses. Everything that was taken into those towns for generations was basically put through a mincer, mixed up with an awful lot of mud and then dumped in the towns.”

“Everything that was taken into those towns for generations was basically put through a mincer, mixed up with an awful lot of mud and then dumped in the towns”

– The BBC's Roland Buerk

Buerk said the challenge for the communities up and down the northeast coast of Japan is what to do with all that wreckage. “There’s 20 million tons of debris up there. In some towns the amount of debris on the street is equivalent to the amount people would throw out in household garbage over a century, and they really haven’t figured out what to do with it yet.”

In Tokyo, Buerk said, the earthquake really didn’t do any damage, but people living there are showing sympathy for the plight of those in the northeast, cutting back on power usage, for example. “The neon signs that Tokyo is famous for on the streets are dark,” he said. “When you go into the subways, a lot of the escalators are switched off. In the public restrooms, the heated toilet seats the Japanese love so much, they’ve been unplugged.”

Japanese officials say the quake killed 15,000 people, more than 9,000 people are still missing and at least 100,000 are still living in evacuation centers.  Buerk said the psychological effects of the quake and tsunami are taking a toll. “I think there’s this problem of people still being concerned, still being traumatized by what happened,” Buerk said.

“There are lots of ear, nose and throat specialists for example, who have people coming to them saying they’re feeling phantom aftershocks. They keep feeling a slight movement in the ground and they’re wondering if it’s another earthquake. I think once a disaster of that magnitude has happened it takes a while for everybody in the country to get over it.”

Report compiled by Here & Now’s ALEX ASHLOCK


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