Life Gets A Little Easier For Residents Of Sendai
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We are also keeping watch on Japan, where the largest city to take a direct hit from the earthquake and tsunami was Sendai. It's still reeling form the disaster. There are shortages of food and gasoline. Damaged buildings, including the main train station, remain shut. But NPR's Jason Beaubien reports that residents are working to rebuild their lives.
JASON BEAUBIEN: Sendai is a modern city of more than a million people. On March 11th, the 9.0 earthquake hit straight off Sendai's coast. The shaking buckled sidewalks and sent fissure cracks up walls but few buildings collapsed. Then the tsunami arrived and completely wiped out much of the low-lying area of Sendai by the sea.
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But downtown Sendai is further inland. The modern high-rises along Sendai's wide commercial streets were untouched by the tsunami. If it wasn't for the caution tape around some buildings and the closed signs in many storefronts, a visitor might not immediately realize that the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan struck near here less than two weeks ago.
Ms. CHIKA SATO: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Chika Sato is just getting off a bus arriving from the North. She'd been staying with relatives and is now returning to Sendai for the first time since the March 11th disaster. Sato works in a dentist's office. She says her clinic is reopening this week but things are still not entirely back to normal.
Ms. SATO: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: There are still shortages of food, she says. And if you don't line up in these long lines you really have a hard time getting the food you need.
The streets of downtown Sendai bustle with people despite most shops being closed. The subway system has reopened. There are taxis at the taxi stands. Most hotels however, are shut.
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Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: In the valet parking drop-off zone of a luxury hotel near the train station, an ad-hoc food market has opened. The towering Metropolitan Hotel was damaged in the earthquake and remains closed. But over the last three days, vendors have started selling vegetables, meat and fish under the awning where bellhops would normally greet arriving guests. The vendors call out what products they still have left.
Mami Wako and her friend Tomoe Kosaka are leaving with several bags of groceries.
Ms. MAMI WAKO: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: We searched on the Internet and TV for a place that was selling food, Wako says, and found that this is the place to be.
The earthquake and tsunami disrupted distribution networks across northern Japan. Ports were destroyed, rail lines severed and roads closed. Most gas stations are still shut and the ones that do have fuel also have long lines snaking out of them for blocks.
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BEAUBIEN: Most of the people wait in their cars. Takahiro Kikuchi completely ran out of gas. He's in the line on a bicycle, an empty red gas can propped in the basket on his handlebars. He's been in the line for two hours and calculates that he's got another hour or so before he reaches the pumps.
Mr. TAKAHIRO KIKUCHI: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: He says he has a lot of friends on the coast who are still missing. He thinks they might be in one of the shelters. He's trying to get fuel so he can go search for them.
Adding to Sendai's woes, it's relatively close to the crippled nuclear power plants. There are new concerns about locally grown food after the Japanese government said they've found elevated levels of radiation in spinach and milk produced in the area. Sendai is just outside the 50 mile exclusion zone set by the U.S. government. Despite this, many foreign countries have encouraged their citizens to evacuate and many foreigners have left. But not all.
Ms. AIMEE MCFARLANE (English Teacher): My name is Aimee McFarlane. I'm from Seattle and I'm just finishing my second year teaching English at an international school in Sendai.
BEAUBIEN: McFarlane says more and more stores are re-opening everyday. She has water, electricity, even internet access at her apartment. She says she's staying because she feels safe here.
Ms. MCFARLANE: My neighborhood is filled with children. And I feel like - I mean, children have moved in to stay with their grandparents. So I feel like if it was really dangerous, these people would be taking their children and leaving.
BEAUBIEN: McFarlane says she's ready to leave if the situation changes for the worse but she says each day things are getting better. The food lines are getting shorter. More and more people are returning. And life is heading back towards normal.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Sendai, Japan.
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