Some facilities that had been damaged in 2011 were hit again over the weekend in a region of Japan that can never seem to catch a break.
A woman cleaning out her home in Koriyama, in Fukushima Prefecture, on Sunday. Typhoon Hagibis struck as the Japanese government was eager to declare the region recovered from the 2011 nuclear crisis.
Oct. 15, 2019
KORIYAMA, Japan — For Hiroyoshi Yaginuma, the typhoon may well be the straw that breaks his back.
On Monday, Mr. Yaginuma, 49, a third-generation owner of an auto body shop in Fukushima Prefecture, was cleaning out the wreckage from Typhoon Hagibis, which battered Japan over the weekend and killed more than 70 people. The typhoon had brought record-setting rains that caused a levee to break on a nearby river, unleashing floodwaters that filled the first floor of his building, destroying everything.
It was only two years ago that Mr. Yaginuma finally finished paying off a $185,000 loan he had taken out to rebuild his shop in Koriyama, an industrial city in Fukushima, after it was badly damaged by a devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
Fukushima is the name that everyone remembers from that disaster eight years ago. It was in this prefecture that waves from the tsunami overpowered a nuclear power plant’s protective sea walls, setting off a catastrophic meltdown. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated; many have still not returned.
An aerial view of Koriyama on Sunday.
On Monday, as Mr. Yaginuma surveyed the garage floor where demolished equipment and heaps of tires, hubcaps and oil cans were drowning in a mess of mud, he said he wasn’t sure he could summon the energy to rebuild his business all over again.
“I am thinking maybe now this is the end,” he said. “I think there is a possibility that this will be a place where not many people can live anymore.”
Typhoon Hagibis struck as the Japanese government and many municipal leaders were eager to declare Fukushima recovered from the 2011 crisis.
“I am thinking maybe now this is the end,” said Hiroyoshi Yaginuma, the owner of an auto body shop in Koriyama.
Critics have said that narrative was already too rosy. The cleanup at the Daiichi nuclear plant is far from complete. The government has yet to decide what to do with more than one million tons of contaminated water stored in close to 1,000 tanks on the site.
Soil scraped from land that was exposed to radiation in the days after the nuclear accident is still stored in millions of industrial-strength plastic bags all over the prefecture. In the city of Tamura, the floodwaters displaced an unknown number of these bags from a temporary storage area, although 10 bags were later recovered undamaged.
Now the region will have to undergo a more intensive cleanup to recover from the typhoon, especially as a stadium 55 miles west of the Daiichi plant prepares to host baseball during the Tokyo Summer Olympics next year.
Storage tanks holding contaminated water at the Daiichi nuclear power plant last year.
The storm inundated several communities throughout Fukushima with floodwaters from the Abukuma River. According to NHK, the public broadcaster, 25 people died in Fukushima because of the typhoon.
Some facilities that had been damaged in 2011 in Koriyama, less than 45 miles from the nuclear plant, were hit again over the weekend. A hospital that was knocked out for two months by the earthquake, for example, flooded this time around.
On Monday, many neighborhoods were still underwater. Where the waters had receded, residents and business owners went back to retrieve what little was salvageable.
In an industrial park off the banks of the Abukuma, couches, bookshelves, desks and office chairs sat along roadsides, awaiting garbage pickup. As rain fell again, workers hosed down walls and mopped up floors.
Workers checking a power line in Koriyama
At Sanko Mokuzai, a company that sells wood stoves and lumber, the chief executive, Toshiyuki Iwasaki, 63, joined several workers to load water-damaged wood panels onto a flatbed truck.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster had already forced him to find another source of timber after the government forbade sales of lumber harvested from the prefecture over radiation fears.
Yet even with the pileup of natural and man-made disasters, he said he could not afford to move because of local connections built over the company’s 50-year history.
“If I have to move,” Mr. Iwasaki said, “I will have to abandon my business.”
Still, he said he had little appetite for some of the government cheerleading for Fukushima’s recovery.
“I don’t really have any ambitions for Fukushima,” he said. “We just have to do what we need for ourselves. We are not really thinking, Let’s do this for Fukushima.”
Although the region’s population overall has dropped and those over 65 now account for close to a third of the population, Fukushima’s plight has attracted a few new residents who hope it might still be revived.
Naohisa Fujita, 46, and his wife, Yumi, 34, said they had moved to Koriyama from Nagano in 2013 because they wanted to help the people of the region.
Yasuko Kokubun found her daughter’s wedding album intact as she cleaned her house after the typhoon.
Early Monday morning, Mr. Fujita, who works in home maintenance and renovation, got a chance to help someone directly. When he and two other residents took a boat to inspect the damage from the typhoon’s floods in their neighborhood, they rescued an older man and his son who were stranded inside their home.
The Fujitas said they were anxious about how soon they could move back to their flooded first-floor rental apartment after cleaning it out. They acknowledged they might have to find a new place to live.
Still, Ms. Fujita was determined that they stay in Koriyama. “We have to work to make this place livable,” she said.
In 2011, about 9,100 people who had lived in villages elsewhere in Fukushima evacuated to Koriyama. Many of them put down roots and stayed.
But about 10,000 Koriyama residents decided to leave in the aftermath of the nuclear meltdown.
Those who remained have built up a resilience in the face of repeated setbacks.
“There is the disaster fatigue of these people who have been hit by all these disasters,” said Kyle Cleveland, a professor of sociology at the Tokyo campus of Temple University, who has written extensively about the response of Fukushima communities to the 2011 nuclear crisis.
“But I think it tends to breed a sense of fatalism,” he added.
That sense of resignation could be felt at Takase Elementary School in Koriyama, where about 400 people sought shelter from the typhoon and more than 230 remained on Monday.
Yukari Yoshinari, 22, who was there with her husband and 2-month-old son, as well as her older sister and her family, was overwhelmed but stoic about the flooding of her home.
Members of the Yoshinari and Yamanobe families were evacuated to an elementary school.
Sitting on the floor of the gym on cardboard mats covered with thin foam pads, Ms. Yoshinari, who is on maternity leave from her job as a caregiver at a nursing home, and her sister, Satomi Yamanobe, 24, folded clothes they had taken to a local laundromat.
Two nights as evacuees had been taxing. The baby had trouble sleeping with bright lights on all night. There were no diapers and only minimal food. When the Yoshinaris went to inspect their home, the floodwaters still came to their hips and they could see that their electronic appliances, tatami straw floor mats and furniture had been destroyed.
But there was no question of moving out of Koriyama. “I have grown up here,” said Ms. Yoshinari, as she rocked her son, Ayuto, to sleep on her shoulder. “It would take too much courage to leave.”
“But,” she added, “I would not recommend anyone else to move into Koriyama.”