Red Cross supports people evacuated from radiation zone


Japanese Red Cross is providing psychological support to people evacuated from both inside and outside of the exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to a hotel in Tokyo.

JRCS psychologist Keiko Akiyama is one of a number of Tokyo prefecture government and agency psychologists, mental health experts, social welfare officers and public officials working at an evacuation centre at the Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka in the heart of Tokyo’s government and business district in the Chiyoda area.

The 40-storey glass tower, once a feature of the international chain of Prince hotels and resorts, had been vacant since its closure in late March.

Following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the Tokyo prefecture government reopened it as an evacuation centre for people being evacuated from the Fukushima prefecture. Some 800 people, including many women and children, were moved to the hotel from April 19.

Ms Akiyama is at the hotel every Tuesday and Thursday, available to speak with anyone wanting support or advice.

“This is a unique situation,” she said. “I have never worked in a situation like this before, where people have been moved because of a nuclear risk and don’t know when or if they will be able to return to their homes.”

“Some people are angry and some people aren’t. There are a number of people here who worked for TEPCO (the nuclear plant operator and Japan’s biggest energy and utilities company) and many people realise that. It’s a difficult situation on a number of levels.”

“A woman who gave birth to a baby in April was worried about the radiation and was upset that she is not able to return to her home.”

“Some people’s way of coping is not to think too much about the future and what may happen. If this is their way of coping right now, their reaction at this time, then it is best not to interfere too much with this coping mechanism, but to support them and be there for them. It’s important that they know we’re here if they need us.”

A man in his 70s said his house in Iwaki in Fukushima prefecture was outside the 30km exclusion zone but was damaged by the earthquake.

“I can’t get it repaired straight away because there is a shortage of carpenters and materials,” he said. “But as soon as it’s repaired I will go back there. I am not worrying about the radiation. I am an elderly man. What can it do to me at this stage of my life. But I feel sorry for the families with children.”

Ms Akiyama said some people, to help pass the time, were volunteering to help out in nearby nursing homes.

“Sometimes people in this type of situation find that they need to support someone else,” she said. “This energises them, makes them feel better and helps them get through their own situation.”

A Japanese Red Cross medical team is also visiting the evacuation centre, checking on elderly people in their room.

“Some elderly people are not walking as much as they normally do in their home town because they are a bit afraid of walking around the streets of Tokyo because they don’t know the area and are not used to it,” Ms Akiyama said. “They are not doing as much walking as they would normally.”

The government plans to move the people out of the hotel at the end of June but it is not known at this stage where they will go.

Photo 1: The Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka in Tokyo, now an evacuation centre for people from Fukushima prefecture

Photo 2: Japanese Red Cross psychologist Keiko Akiyama at the Tokyo hotel evacuation centre … “Some people’s way of coping is not to think too much about the future”.