Ishikawa panel recognizes 30 quake-related deaths

It's been more than four months since the powerful New Year's Day earthquake struck the Noto Peninsula in central Japan. A panel of experts has held their first meeting for the certification of disaster-related deaths. It recommended 30 victims be recognized as deaths related to the quake.

Naka Noriko died while she was living in harsh conditions at a shelter. She was 71 years old. Her husband, Tatsuo, applied for certification of a disaster-related death. Tatsuo said, "I hope she will be certified as she would have been alive if there wasn't the earthquake."

The Naka family lives in Takimata Town in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture. The quake cut off the roads leading to the district, leaving the town isolated. Residents had no water or power for quite some time. The couple initially sheltered in a farmer's warehouse. Tatsuo says they slept on fertilizer bags.

Nine days after the quake, Noriko's health suddenly deteriorated. Her husband requested an emergency airlift. But the medical helicopter could not come due to bad weather. Tatsuo said, "Noriko kept saying she felt cold even when she was covered by a blanket." He added, "After 30 minutes, she closed her eyes. I couldn't do anything. I felt helpless, not knowing what to do."

Families of people who apparently died from stress and fatigue while living away from home due to the quake may qualify for financial assistance. First, they need to file an application for certification as a disaster-related death.

Local governments convene a meeting of experts to determine which deaths meet the criteria. The panel met for the first time on Tuesday.

It reviewed 35 applications for deceased residents in Wajima and Suzu cities as well as Noto Town. Of these, the panel recommended that 30 victims be certified.

An expert says it is important to continue supporting affected people. Kansai University professor Okumura Yoshihiro said, "The weather is going to get hot and people tend to lose stamina in hot weather." He added, "Survivors should not overdo it with clean-ups and rebuilding. They should ask younger people for help."

Municipal governments have so far received at least 100 applications for certification. The number could dramatically increase as the screening process progresses.