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To Japan quake survivors, temporary homes feel like heaven

April 14, 2011

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John M. Glionna

Los Angeles Times
April, 2011

After a month without a hot shower, Mika Terui and her family move gratefully into the first units to be built in a quake-devastated region.

Reporting from Rikuzentakata, Japan—For Mika Terui, unit 5-2 of this devastated community's newest housing complex was home, finally home. The 39-year-old mother of three felt like one of the luckiest survivors of the magnitude 9 earthquake and resulting tsunami that killed thousands of people and left many others homeless or languishing in evacuation centers.

A day earlier, she and her family of five had moved into one of 36 prefabricated temporary homes built on the playground of a junior high school, part of a public-private disaster relief effort in this ravaged community on Japan's northeastern coast.

The units, which resemble compact double-wide trailers, feature new appliances and two small bedrooms each. They are the first newly constructed homes to open in the region since the March 11 disaster, at a project cost of hundreds of millions of dollars...

..."The government was providing the basic housing, but the places lacked the many small items that make a house a home," said Tetsuto Binnaca, head of the local Peace Winds effort.

Organizers of the nonprofit turned to the corporate sector. They contacted a grocery store chain, which collected the items from its stock nationwide and transported the goods and work crews to the quake area.

"I've never seen anything like it, how all this came together so fast for these people," said Malka Older, a Japanese team leader for the International Mercy Corps. "It's not easy to bring together that many moving parts into the happy result of evacuees moving into fully furnished houses only a month after they were displaced. What we're seeing throughout the recovery effort is an incredible pace and a commitment to helping affected people get back to their lives."