Homeless Camp Out At Japanese Rescue Centers

In Japan, thousands have been evacuated from their homes near the crippled nuclear plant, and thousands more lost their homes in last week's earthquake and tsunami.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is on assignment in Cairo. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Japan's nuclear crisis grew even more critical today when the small number of remaining workers at a stricken nuclear plant were withdrawn, at least temporarily, due to a spike in radiation levels.

And in a rare public statement, the emperor of Japan expressed grave concern about the risks to the country.

Thousands have been evacuated from their homes near the nuclear plant. Many more thousands lost their homes in last week's earthquake and tsunami. The homeless are camped out in rescue centers in northern Japan.

NPR's Doualy Xaykaothao has this report from one of those shelters.

(Soundbite of pouring water)

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO: At this high school gym in Koriyama City, men and women are huddled around a kerosene heater while a tea kettle boils on top. A man refills it because the demand for hot beverage is high. It's near freezing, and now the snow has started falling outside.

(Soundbite of children chattering)

XAYKAOTHAO: Inside, kids have little to do but run around the gym. Kaishu Myada(ph) approaches us and is eager to talk. He's had little to do since he arrived from Okuma, some 30 miles east of here. His home, like most of the people sleeping in this gym, was devastated by the earthquake.

How are you sleeping? What do you do during the day?

Mr. KAISHU MYADA: Nothing. I have nothing to do - back and forth to the toilet, you know. That's all. And eating - you know, that's all I can do.

XAYKAOTHAO: He surprises us when he says he used to work at the Fukushima nuclear plant years ago as a worker, cleaning up biochemical waste. When asked about his friends, some who still work there, he shows concern, but shakes his head.

Mr. MYADA: I trusted them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MYADA: I trusted them. Even the big earthquake happen, nothing is going to be worried about, I thought. I thought. But no, not anymore, you know.

XAYKAOTHAO: What do you think about the explosions?

Mr. MYADA: It's just devastating, you know. I have no hope, and I can't see any future.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MYADA: I can't see any future for myself and for my family and for everybody.

XAYKAOTHAO: Harumi Takahashi(ph) is also from Okuma. She's with her family members. All are sleeping on newly purchased blankets. Under one of them, her dog, a dachshund, sleeps.

Ms. HARUMI TAKAHASHI: (Through translator) They're just sitting here all day. They don't have TV. They can't see what's going on. So it's not about getting angry or upset. They're not even seeing the video of what's happening there. So they really have no idea what's going on or what to think about anything.

XAYKAOTHAO: But aren't these people telling them anything?

Ms. TAKAHASHI: (Through translator) They don't know anything, who is (unintelligible).

XAYKAOTHAO: Asked how she's fairing, she says...

Ms. TAKAHASHI: (Through translator) There's - well, there seems to be plenty of food. Yeah, plenty of food and water.

XAYKAOTHAO: And strawberries. Strawberries - are they good right now?

Unidentified Man (Translator): (Foreign language spoken) Yeah.

XAYKAOTHAO: But in another corner is a 69-year-old grandmother with a facemask on, bundled by herself on a small blanket. Bags are stacked next to her, as well as a box. She's reading the latest newspaper: on the front page, an image of the four nuclear reactors, one burning.

When approached, she looks like she's strong and holding up OK.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man: She's very worried about it. She was opposed to these plants from the very beginning. She's very anti-nuclear. You know, think about the Hiroshima atomic attack. This just is a tearful situation.

XAYKAOTHAO: She continues talking, even striking at the newspaper on top of her little box. Then suddenly, she breaks down.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

XAYKAOTHAO: For a long while, she spoke about her missing family members in the hardest-hit areas in Sendai, about how she's by herself and about how wrong Japan is for having nuclear plants. People start to stare, but she's adamant that she's right. Just look, she said. Look at what's happening now.

Doualy Xaykaothao, NPR News, Koriyama City.

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