Photo/IllutrationPatients waited for rescue on more than 30 mattresses in a hall of Futaba Hospital in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. (Masahito Iinuma)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture--First came the excruciating wait for rescue.

Patients were sprawled on makeshift bedding scattered on the floor of a hall at Futaba Hospital. Many were stuck there for days without running water or electricity.

And then came the frantic rush to flee. When rescue buses arrived, several of the patients left behind unfinished drinks and other garbage around their disheveled bedding.

Some of them would not survive the bus ride to safety.

Signs remain of the chaos that ensued at the hospital after the disaster started at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant eight years ago.

All is now quiet around the deserted brown-brick hospital, located in Okuma, a town that co-hosts the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Entry to the highly restricted area around the hospital, which lies just 5 kilometers southwest of the stricken plant, requires permission from the town government.

A white iron gate blocks the hospital entrance. Trees and withered grass that broke through the asphalt in the courtyard have grown to about the height of an adult. The parking lot contains piles of rusted hospital beds that were used to bring patients to the buses.

Inside, wheelchairs, plastic bottles, towels, buckets and paper plates are strewn on the floor of a corridor near the entrance of the medical treatment wing.

The scene in the hall where the patients awaited evacuation underscores the miserable and desperate conditions they endured.

Comforters, blankets and sheets remain messed up on more than 30 mattresses. Half-finished plastic beverage bottles, empty packages of Castella sponge cakes and torn pieces of toilet paper are scattered on the floor.

Stains on the bedding indicate that some patients were too weak to seek privacy to relieve themselves. Traces of excrement also appear on the floor.

The hospital’s director, Ichiro Suzuki, stayed at the hospital to tend to the patients after the disaster. He died at the age of 84 in January this year.

It took five days to complete the evacuation of the hospital largely because of miscommunication and poor coordination between the Fukushima prefectural government, prefectural police and the Self-Defense Forces.

Forty-four people, comprising patients who were waiting at Futaba Hospital and residents of an affiliated nursing-care home, died on the way to or at their new shelters.

On March 12, closing arguments were heard at the Tokyo District Court in the trial of three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Former Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78, and two former vice presidents, Ichiro Takekuro, 72, and Sakae Muto, 68, are charged with professional negligence resulting in injuries and the 44 deaths. They are suspected of failing to take measures to safeguard the nuclear plant against a tsunami of a predictable height.

The six-story, 350-bed hospital was treating 338 patients before the disaster struck.

Decayed and rusted over the years, the hospital is now a bleak symbol of the chaos and desperation in the Tohoku region in March 2011.