Tens of Thousands of Homeless Line Up for New Homes
KOBE, Japan (AP) _ His home flattened and his job as an accountant in jeopardy, Noriyoshi Kochi lined up with tens of thousands of other earthquake survivors today outside Kobe City Hall to apply for a new home.
His chances of getting government-built housing?
``Most likely, zero,″ he said.
More than 37,000 people were waiting outside tents and buildings around Kobe to apply for 2,700 temporary housing units expected to be ready around mid-February. Kochi was one of the first to apply.
The government plans to build thousands of units to house 300,000 people left homeless by the Jan. 17 quake. The death toll stood at 5,088 today, and 51 people were missing. Some 88,000 buildings were destroyed or severely damaged.
The government is coming under increasing fire for letting turf battles between ministries interfere with the rescue efforts and for failing to accept more offers of international aid.
Among other things, Japan has rejected a week-old U.S. offer to house 2,000 homeless on the aircraft carrier USS Independence.
In confirming Japan’s rejection of that offer, Kishichirou Amae, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, explained that it was not clear how long the victims could stay on the carrier.
He also said many victims like to return periodically to their damaged homes, and staying on the carrier would stop them from doing that.
Among the homeless, Kochi, 26, was luckier than some. Though his house was destroyed, he and his mother escaped without injury.
The elderly, handicapped, injured and families with small children will get priority. There are enough of them to fill all the units available soon. Kochi and his mother don’t qualify, and they have no illusions of getting shelter soon.
Like many businesses in quake areas, Kochi’s company is in trouble. With his savings low, Kochi and his mother may have to move in with relatives 30 miles outside the city.
Many of the hundreds of thousands of refugees packed into cold shelters in gymnasiums, government buildings or tent camps now face an outbreak of influenza that has stricken hundreds.
Regional government officials increased the number of makeshift clinics in the city from 23 to 115 today, and increased the number of nurses to more than 400.
Depression has also set in among the homeless. Volunteers hoping to cheer up the victims are handing out stuffed animals and flowers, and a counseling hotline _ atypical in Japan _ is being set up.
A main expressway damaged in the quake was opened today, allowing trucks to ferry in emergency supplies. Traffic was backed up at some points for up to 20 miles between Kobe and nearby Osaka.
In Tokyo, Labor Minister Manso Hamamoto said between 70,000 and 100,000 people lost their jobs in the quake.
Sadatoshi Ozato, the government minister in charge of the quake response, told lawmakers today that the government is considering building 60,000 houses for refugees, including 19,000 temporary houses.
The government announced today that Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will make a one-day trip to quake areas Tuesday, their first visit to the disaster area.
They will view damage in Kobe and other areas by helicopter and visit several shelters.
The Kansai region, which includes Kobe, and Tokyo are historical rivals. Some people in the quake area pointed to the royal trip to the Middle East as an example of the capital’s indifference to the suffering in Kobe.
The quake was the second deadliest in Japan this century. Fifty-one people are still missing, and 15,000 soldiers and police were expected to search for them on Saturday, Kyodo reported.