Photo/IllutrationHisatomo Suzuki, right, speaks after he and other members of the "old man squad" received flowers from town government officials in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 31. (Daiki Ishizuka)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture--A team of older residents that stayed behind to patrol this town after its residents evacuated following the March 2011 nuclear crisis has completed its mission.

The "old man squad," as its six members called themselves, ended its six-year activities on March 31 before an evacuation order is lifted for the Ogawara and Chuyashiki districts on April 10.

Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe and 30 town government officials visited the team’s base and expressed gratitude to the members.

Hearing Watanabe saying, “The evacuation order is to be lifted thanks to your efforts,” brought tears to the eyes of some members.

The team comprised Hisatomo Suzuki, 66, who formerly served as head of the town’s general affairs section, other former senior town government officials, a former firefighter and others. The average age of the team is over 65.

Okuma co-hosts the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The six members started making rounds and removing weeds in 2013 in lieu of town government officials.

When forming the team, Suzuki told Watanabe: “There's no need for young people to risk their lives. We, old men, will make the rounds.”

Two to three members patrolled the town in rotation, removed fallen trees and branches, cleaned streets and assisted residents who temporarily returned to the municipality on behalf of the town government.

The new Okuma town government office will open on April 14 in Ogawara, where 100 officials are expected to start work on May 7.

“I believe the entire town will be able to recover from the disaster. People can do anything if they have high morale,” said Suzuki.

“I want to do everything I can to contribute to the town. We, six members, promised to keep going on until the decommissioning process of the nuclear reactors is complete.”