Lives in limbo three weeks after Japan's tsunami

Fri Apr 1, 2011 1:48pm EDT
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By David Dolan and Jon Herskovitz

SENDAI/TOKYO (Reuters) - The debris left by the tsunami that tore apart Japan's northeast coast three weeks ago is slowly being cleared but the two train cars washed up to the front of the Sugawara family home are proving far more troublesome.

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the tsunami as high as a five-story building it triggered caused Japan's biggest humanitarian crisis since it rebuilt from the rubble after World War Two, leaving 350,000 homeless and more than 250 km of coastline in shambles.

Japan has made enormous strides in clearing roads, providing shelter and recovering bodies but it has extended little to rebuild the lives of the hundreds of thousands who lost everything in the disaster and are now looking for ways out of overcrowded evacuee shelters.

Yusuke Sugawara, 78, has taken in his brother's family whose home in the Sendai suburb of Higashi Matsumura was slammed by the tsunami and now is littered with debris such as ships and train carriages dumped randomly when the wall of water withdrew.

"We read about the temporary houses in the paper, but so far they just seem to be working on them," he said.

Japan has unrolled a variety of programs, but most offer only partial solutions to life-altering problems and put the burden on the evacuees to seek help at local government offices that may have been washed away by the tsunami or are unreachable because their car is at the bottom of the sea.

An unfolding nuclear crisis has diverted attention from the devastation caused to lives and added to the financial burden for the world's third largest economy of the incident it estimates has caused $300 billion in damages -- likely making it the world's most costly natural disaster.

MASS BURIALS   Continued...

<p>People walk in an area destroyed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Taro town, Iwate Prefecture March 29, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Barria</p>