Sunday, June 5, 2011

Inaccessible evacuation shelters in Japan during tsunami led to deaths of disabled people

From The Japan Times:

OTSUCHI, Iwate Pref., Japan — At least one person in a wheelchair was washed away by the March 11 tsunami in the coastal town of Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, because the path to the designated evacuation shelter didn't have a ramp despite repeated requests by residents to create one.

Following the incident, the municipal government said it will overhaul its disaster prevention plan.

The shelter was a temple at the top of 40 steps. Tsui Takashimizu, 92, was washed away after she was stranded at the bottom of the steps, according to her son, Akio. He said the tsunami arrived too quickly for him to help his mother.

The tragedy highlights financial problems at cities with aging populations. Despite repeated requests in 2008 and last year for an alternative route to another designated evacuation shelter, the municipal government said it couldn't afford the project.

The area has many elderly wheelchair users. According to witnesses, several other elderly disabled people were also swept away near the temple as they waited to be carried up.