FUKUSHIMA Lives on the Line

221chap.IVPatient Relief Activity Records [Essays and Research Publications]FUKUSHIMA: Lives on the LineBMJ Group blogs [http://blogs.bmj.com/]Fukushima One Month OnRyuki KassaiProfessor and Chair Department of Community and Family MedicineFukushima Medical University27 April 2011 by BMJ GroupIronically, the annual sakura (cherry flowers) season has just come to Fukushima when one month has passed since the first earthquake and tsunami hit us. Fukushima is famous for its sakura; we have the 1000-year-old Takizakura (cascade sakura), one of the three best cherry trees of Japan, and the Hanamiyama (cherry-blossom viewing hills) wholly covered by the blossoms. Cherry trees are in full bloom everywhere in mid and east Fukushima. Beautiful, yet not many people seem to drink sake, sing songs, or dance under the blossoms this year. It is difficult for us to decide between the two options this year – to celebrate the season, or not. Sakura is the most spiritual flower for the Japanese. A few of you may recall that a sakura tree with drifting blossoms on the wind was used as the background of the last battle scene in the movie The Last Samurai, which implies the crowning glory, that is the "perfect (migoto-na)" death as the samurai.We continue to be hit by large aftershocks day after day, night after night. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, as of 3 pm on April 22, there have been 429 aftershocks with a magnitude of 5.0 and above, 74 registering 6.0 and higher and five at the 7.0 level or higher since the first one. We still do not have any positive reports that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is settled.One month is long enough that people despair when the situation does not seem to improve as they had expected. Let me take one of the most tragic examples. After being destroyed by the first earthquake on March 11, the waterworks department had worked hard to restore 97% of the water supply in Iwaki City. However, the aftershock of magnitude 7.0 smashed most of it again on April 11, exactly one month later. Not only the workers in the waterworks department of the city but also many citizens of Iwaki City felt as if they had worked in vain, like Sisyphus.On April 4 I was standing in the ruins of the tsunami-hit community in Minami-Soma City looking out at the horizon of the Pacific. A nursing home was in front of me. Broken chairs, tables, beds, cabinets, wheelchairs, bookshelves, and many other things were scattered with tons of mud and debris everywhere. Badly damaged cars were rolled over in the yard and were even inside the building, which had no intact doors or windows. There was no evidence of life, but a local policeman said that more than 1,000 people were still missing from that city alone.According to a National Police Agency tally at 3 pm on April 22, 14,172 people were killed and 12,392 were missing by the Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake. In Fukushima Prefecture, 1,432 people were killed, and 1,835 are missing. According to the Anti-Disaster Headquarters of the Fukushima Prefecture government, 25,936 people from Fukushima are living in evacuation shelters within the prefecture, and 29,833, outside the prefecture.Since April 4, I have been working as a leader of the teams whose mission is to find, visit and take care of the people who cannot move by themselves and still live at home in the zone between 20 and 30 km from the nuclear power plant, just next to the exclusion zone. The teams of the first week of the operation consisted of about 50 people from the Self- Defense Forces, rescue squads, public health nurses from the local city/town governments, and doctors and nurses from Nagasaki University and Fukushima Medical University (FMU) Hospitals, co-organised by FMU and the Fukushima Prefecture government. In the first week of the operation, we took care of 299 persons at home in 3 cities, 2 towns and one village, with 223 persons being in Minami-Soma City.