Sunday 12 June 2011

Three Months On

Today is 11th June and yesterday was Friday. Three months since the earthquake. I thought I'd give you a run down of where we are.

Well, the official figures are 15,240 dead and 8,173 missing (Fire and Disaster Management Agency). The police and Self Defence Forces are still looking for bodies. Someone who lives near Matsushima told me that rivers are being dammed in an attempt to recover bodies. Of the dead, over 2,000 remain unidentified. Families are giving DNA samples (saliva) to try and find their relatives.

Work on clearing the debris is going ahead and from what I see on television it is being sorted for recycling, gathered into piles and transported by truck to large areas set aside for the purpose. But according to the paper only 20% has been cleared and it is behind schedule.

The television has lots of 'feel good' stories of factories, small businesses and shops working against the odds to recover their businesses. And everyday I meet people who have been working against the clock to get things back to normal. On the other hand, there is frustration that the big decisions are taking so long. The Disaster Recovery Bill was delayed by the shenanigans in the government and was passed only yesterday. It sets up a government agency to oversee the recovery. Local governments can't get the actual money they need until the 2nd Extra Budget is passed and that too is being held up by the power games in Tokyo. The Recovery Forum, headed by the man with the name no one can read (五百旗頭, read Iokibe), produces its first report at the end of the month. It looks like higher taxes to foot the bill.

In the three prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima 148,582 people  have been evacuated from their homes, of these 99,184 are from Fukushima. Of these 35,500 have left Fukushima and 40,000 are unaccounted for. This gives you an idea of the scale of the exodus and the damage. Although radiation levels are down (1.27 microsievelts/hour in Koriyama today) these official figures are measured a metre from the ground on concrete and we're more savvy now. The hydrogen explosions back in March spread radioactive material over a wide area. It's in the soil, in ditches and drains. Those schools that have had the soil in playgrounds removed are allowing children to play outside again (but under supervision and the kids have to wear long sleeves, masks and caps) but the parks are deserted, no washing or futon are hanging outside, and as the barber told Takeshi, no one goes out on rainy days.

At Fukushima Daiichi it was announced a few days ago that the meltdown in Reactors 1, 2 and 3, was followed by 'melt through', i.e. the uranium that melted and fell into a pile at the bottom of the   pressure vessel subsequently burned a hole through, dripping into the the outer containment vessel (which is probably leaking). Previously they'd thought that Reactor 1 was full of water and just circulating the water would keep it cool. But plans had to be changed when they found the pressure vessel nearly empty. There are plans to clean and circulate the water in all three reactors but there seem be various setbacks and they're not working yet. High levels of radiation and now the hot weather are affecting workers.

Our sales figures are in for May: 22% down on May last year. We've lost a couple of customers who've moved out of the prefecture to avoid the Fukushima label, another customer is in the 20 km area so stopped production, and some customers have resumed production but are not yet up to full speed. Fruit and veg are delayed but volumes seem to be at normal levels - so long as the produce passes the tests when it's ready. Local sake brewers are doing well with internet sales. But what with the earthquake, the tsunami, the nuclear accident, loss of consumer confidence (fuhyo higai), antipathy on the part of a few of our customers towards our M&A, and having to accomodate customers who are changing to weekend working to save electricity, things do seem a bit hard.

On a personal note, I've decided it's time for my own Disaster Recovery and Renewal Plan. Sakai-san's parting shot last Monday night was to the effect that I had put on weight (アンさん、ふくよかになったね)so I decided to take myself in hand. I've rejoined the gym I went to until two years ago when I started working late.  (It's on the 3rd floor of a hotel. I was told the earthquake smashed the glass between the gym and the pool which lost half its water.) After only two visits I feel better already. Whether there will be any visible results by the time of second son Tom's wedding in six weeks time, remains to be seen.
Sorry this is a bit long.

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