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Japanese officials warn of long-term hardships ahead

The governor of hard-hit Miyagi prefecture asks survivors to relocate because even temporary housing will not be ready for as long as a year. Conditions are bleak at the nation's shelters, where 380,000 displaced people are staying.

March 18, 2011|By Rong-Gong Lin II, Los Angeles Times
  • Survivors huddle around an open fire at a shelter in Minamisanriku, a town in the Miyagi prefecture of northeastern Japan. About 380,000 people displaced by last week's earthquake and tsunami are living in shelters around the country.
Survivors huddle around an open fire at a shelter in Minamisanriku, a town… (Associated Press )

Japanese officials are girding the nation for months of hardship, warning about ongoing rolling electricity blackouts and asking quake refugees to move elsewhere in the country, as it became clear that even temporary homes won't be quickly built.

About 380,000 people were living in shelters. In Miyagi prefecture, one of the worst-hit, Gov. Yoshihiro Murai asked survivors to relocate, because replacement housing would not be ready for as long as a year, local media said.

Photos: In Japan, life amid crisis

"Living conditions will improve if they move away. It is a nonbinding request. I hope people affected by the quake will cooperate," the governor told reporters, according to Kyodo News Agency.

The wire service said widespread fuel shortages have caused Miyagi prefecture officials to permit the burying of bodies without cremating them, which is customary in Japan. Local elections scheduled for April have been postponed, the news agency said.

Conditions were grim at some shelters. Kyodo reported that 21 people, including some elderly people, died after arriving at evacuation centers. A physician interviewed by NHK television said deaths at shelters have been caused by poor nutrition, infectious diseases or dehydration, and that the shelters are ill-equipped to handle serious medical cases.

Businesses across Japan reported slowing down production, in part because of scarce supplies and rolling power outages. Northeastern Japan is a manufacturing center.

More foreign embassies have decided to move their operations away from Tokyo to southern Japan, including Finland and Nepal, the wire service said.

Margaret Aguirre, spokeswoman with the Santa Monica-based International Corps, which has an emergency response team in northern Japan, said some towns north of Sendai as of Friday still had not received humanitarian aid.

"The team found acute shortages of food, water and some medicines, and survivors in need of mental health support," she wrote in a statement. "Many are without heat in an area where temperatures have dipped below freezing and snow has been falling -- putting survivors in danger of exposure."

Photos: In Japan, life amid crisis

ron.lin@latimes.com

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