Japan quake survivors too shocked to contemplate the future

Thu Mar 17, 2011 7:50pm EDT
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By Chang-Ran Kim and Yoko Kubota

YAMADA/RIKUZENTAKATA, Japan (Reuters) - - A week after their lives were turned upside down by the biggest recorded earthquake in Japan's history, many survivors are too shocked to contemplate the future.

"My house does not exist anymore. Everything is gone, including money," said Tsukasa Sato, a 74-year-old barber with a heart condition, as he warmed his hands in front of a stove at a shelter in Yamada, northern Japan.

"This is where I was born, so I want to stay here. I don't know how it will turn out, but this is my hope."

He spoke as snow fell gently on what remains of the town -- once home to nearly 20,000 people but now a wasteland of shattered and charred rubble.

Much of what wasn't destroyed by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake was smashed to bits by the subsequent tsunami; what escaped the giant waves was torched by fires that broke out in the aftermath.

Deputy mayor Shopichi Sato declines to give even approximate casualty figures for the town as he has bigger immediate problems: how to dispose of hundreds of corpses at a crematorium that can only handle five at a time -- and with fuel for the furnace fast running out.

Mirroring Japan's national demographic, Yamada was home to a significant population of elderly people who now make up a majority of survivors gathered at an elementary school gymnasium that escaped the carnage on the edge of town.

Bundled in blankets against the biting cold, they huddle around stoves -- some chatting to pass the time, others just staring blankly into the distance, or at their hands.   Continued...

<p>A survivor looks on at the debris from the second floor of his destroyed house in Yamada, Iwate Prefecture, days after the area was devastated by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, March 17, 2011. REUTERS/Aly Song</p>