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One Quake-Displaced Family Struggles To Resume Normal Life

January 28, 1995

EDITOR’S NOTE _ For hundreds of thousands in people in Kobe, Japan, the Jan. 17 earthquake lives on every day in the disruption of their lives. An Associated Press reporter spent a day last week with a Kobe family as they pondered an important decision: whether to try to return to their damaged home from the shelter where they have been living.


Associated Press Writer

KOBE, Japan (AP) _ When the Matsuda family woke on the cold wooden floor of a gymnasium-turned-shelter, it was the first promising day since the earthquake that flattened Kobe.

Eisaku Matsuda, a computer systems analyst, put on his blue jeans and headed straight to the family’s partially damaged condominium to press ahead with his cleanup efforts.

``We’re hoping we can move back into our house today,″ Matsuda said Thursday. ``I want my family to resettle at home _ then I can go back to work.″

The earthquake left more than 300,000 people homeless. Long, tedious days in makeshift shelters at schools, gyms and public halls have stretched patience to the limits.

A few victims are trickling back to damaged homes that still lack water, gas and heat. The Matsudas spent most of the day trying to determine if that was the way to go.

There had been a strong aftershock Wednesday night. The shelter in the sturdy gym at Ikuta Junior High School, which had no visible quake damage, seemed a safer bet than the Matsudas’ high-rise condominium building, which had long, thick cracks in its walls.

Yet compared to many Kobe residents, the Matsudas were fortunate. The quake smashed their dishes and glasses, bounced furniture off the walls and ripped down chunks of plaster. But their home was standing, and Matsuda, working with other relatives, had cleaned up most of the mess by Thursday afternoon.

The building had been ``yellow-tagged″ by city officials, which meant the high-rise building was deemed unsafe, but residents could enter if they wish.

The alternative was to continue sharing a home with 2,000 people. There had been disputes over how loud the television should be played, and heated arguments had erupted between smokers and non-smokers.

Doctors were treating up to 100 people a day, most with colds and flus that physicians fear could become epidemic.

As they weighed the decision on whether to return, school and work questions intruded on the Matsudas.

Eisaku Matsuda, 38, is under pressure to return to work at his computer company in Osaka, which is 25 miles away and was largely unscathed by the quake.

``They are pressing me every day,″ said Matsuda. ``If I don’t call them by 9 or 10 (a.m.), they call me.″

Matsuda’s wife, Mirei, walked their two sons to the Kobe Suwayama Elementary School on Thursday for what was to be the first day of classes since the tremor.

The boys, Shunichi, 11, and Soichi, 6, were anxious to see friends. Before leaving the shelter, they bounced around the gym floor in their socks, restless with their confinement.

But Principal Shinhati Okada told the students assembled on a sandy playing field that the school was packed with refugees and he couldn’t say when classes would resume.

``We want our children to go back to school or they will fall behind,″ said Mrs. Matsuda. ``They have been out of school too long and they are goofing off too much.″

Some families, she said, have shipped their children to relatives in other cities so the kids can get back to the books. Mrs. Matsuda was also fretting about the emotional health of her children.

``Whether they realize it or not, there’s stress building up inside them,″ she said.

At dinnertime Thursday, Mrs. Matsuda went to the food line and picked up the family meal in a cardboard box: rice, cold sausages, potatoes, apples and chocolate cookies.

As she headed back, she walked past the entrance to the gym and headed down the street, around the corner and on to the condo with cracks up and down the front.

It was decided: the Matsudas were going to spend their first night at home since the quake.

She told a journalist they were not yet ready to receive visitors.

``This is an important night for us,″ she said. ``I hope you understand.″

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