Tokyo (AFP) April 9, 2011
Hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of Japanese yen found in towns and villages destroyed by a huge earthquake and tsunami have been handed in since the March 11 disaster, police said Saturday.
Police stations in the worst-hit areas along Japan's northeast coast say that every day, rescue workers and concerned citizens bring in unclaimed money, but finding out who owns it is a challenge.
"Money and other valuables are constantly being brought in to local police stations," said a police spokesman in Miyagi prefecture, one of the areas hit hardest by the biggest earthquake ever recorded in Japan.
Some Japanese have even returned to their homes to find other people's valuables were swept in by the vast torrent of water that slammed into the northeast coast last month, and have handed them over to police.
Survivors of the disaster, which left nearly 28,000 people dead or missing, say the money should be used to help rebuild devastated towns and villages.
Under Japanese law, anyone who finds the money can keep it if the original owners do not come forward within three months, but if they do not claim it, ownership transfers to local authorities or the owner of the property where it was found.
There have been isolated reports of looting in the aftermath of the disaster -- one bank in Miyagi had 40 million yen ($470,000) stolen from its vault.
But Japanese people pride themselves on their sense of civic duty, and crime levels have remained relatively low despite the scale of the disaster.
News agency Kyodo reported that a 69-year-old man in tsunami-hit Ishinomaki prefecture recently handed over to police a black bag containing 1,200 dollars'-worth of cash and a woman's driving licence.
"Hopefully, she survived," the man told Kyodo, as he gave up any claim on the money and left the police station.
The head of Japan's Disaster Prevention System Institute has urged authorities to extend the three-month period people have to claim their belongings in the wake of Japan's worst crisis since World War II.
Takehiko Yamamura also called for authorities to be granted special permission to open safes found in the disaster zone so that their owners can be identified and any property inside returned.
earlier related report
Families from Rikuzentakata carried their few possessions through light rain from a school gym that has been home since March 11, into prefabricated buildings just metres (yards) away.
Although spartan, the new units are a far cry from the stress of life in the shelter, where hundreds slept with no privacy and little comfort.
Keiko Yoshioka, 35, was one of the lucky few chosen to move in to one of the 36 two-bedroom units, nearly a month after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the tsunami it created.
"I feel a bit relieved that maybe now I can restart from scratch," she said, as she made her way from the shelter that she and her son had shared with up to 1,300 others.
"However, I feel bad when I know there are so many who want to be in my place. The feeling of being sorry for others is bigger than my feeling of happiness at having my own place," said Yoshioka, whose name was drawn in a lottery.
Local governments in the hard-hit Miyagi and Iwate regions are aiming to build temporary housing for 62,000 households, but construction has only begun on 10 percent of them, Kyodo News said.
With more than 150,000 people still in temporary housing, ruling party lawmakers want an extra 500 billion yen ($5.9 billion) to construct a total of 70,000 units in tsunami-hit areas.
The twin disasters of March 11, which were followed by a serious and ongoing nuclear plant accident, are known to have killed nearly 13,000 people, with around 15,000 still listed as missing.
Those who survived have found life tough.
In addition to loss of their houses and sometimes their loved ones, many people saw their businesses washed away, leaving them without any income and presenting many with the problem of what to do about their long-term future.
Mika Terai, a 39-year-old mother of three, said she was happy to win a housing unit, but might consider leaving the town to look for a job.
"I feel that finally we can have some privacy as a family," said Terai, who lost her house and her job to the tsunami.
"I don't really want to leave this town because my children are still in school, but we may have to in order to look for work," she said.
She said she thought the future looked grim for Rikuzentakata, where a long stretch of sandy beach and a thick pine forest were once a major draw.
"Since the coastal part was the town's heart, I'm not sure whether the town will remain," she said.
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