Long-Term, Mass Evacuees in Evacuation Centers

After the Great Hanshin Earthquake, a mass number of refugees had to live in evacuation centers for a long period. With lifelines dysfunctioning, their life in the evacuation center was extended up to several months. As the Disaster Relief Act regulated that life in evacuation centers should be only up to one week, mainly big facilities and institutions such as school auditoriums and gymnasiums had been designated as evacuation centers. They were not meant to be used for long-term living but to serve as accommodation for a limited period. Living conditions there were poor and harsh, especially for the physically weak, elderly people and infants -- from the very beginning of the evacuation period, their health conditions deteriorated. Even for the healthy, the space with no privacy was not suitable for long-term living. People in some centers tried to improve the situation by partitioning the space with some corrugated cartons, with not much success.

The number of evacuation centers and evacuees in Hyogo prefecture reached 1,153 and 316,000, respectively, at their peak. In Kobe city, 599 places were used as evacuation centers, a number much more than 364, previously designated by the local disaster prevention plan.


Various Types of Shelters

People also took refuge in various facilities which had not been officially designated as evacuation centers. Many of them were small-sized, including private centers. Such small-sized refuges, in general, had better living conditions, with smaller rooms -- in some cases in Japanese style with tatami-mats, equipped for living as good as a residential house. At some of the public institutions, including sanatoriums, however, managers turned down disaster-victims when asked to let them take refuge.

The number of evacuees was the highest during the few days immediately after the earthquake. In the case of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, many people took refuge even though their houses were not seriously damaged, since lifelines such as electricity, water supply and gas were devastated and some aftershocks were still occurring. Evacuation centers, especially big ones, were packed with people, which made the environment even worse. It was after the people who took refuge only for a short period went back to their homes that the real evacuation life for homeless people started.

Small-Sized Facilities Better for Long-Period Evacuation

It became clear that an evacuation center should have two functions; one is to secure the safety of the evacuees without delay, and the other is to enable refugees to live for a long-term. Only the former function had been given importance and a center was regarded only as a short-term accommodation. It was also discovered that a smaller-sized facility is more serviceable for people to live in for an extended period and that some facilities were not utilized as a refuge though they had living equipment of a good standard. It is necessary to review evacuation centers in the future, taking into consideration whether local facilities and institutions can provide a space where people on refuge can lead a decent life for an extended period.

(ANDO Motoo)