NAMIE, Fukushima Prefecture--Bringing much-needed relief, a supermarket opened here for the first time since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster forced the evacuation of the entire town.

About 300 people, mostly local residents, lined up on the morning of July 14 in front of the Aeon Namie store. When the doors opened at 9 a.m., the customers poured in, many flocking to the section selling fresh fish brought in from ports in the prefecture, including the Ukedo fishing port in Namie.

After evacuation orders were lifted for some parts of Namie in spring 2017, evacuees started to trickle back to their hometown.

They have been longing for a supermarket because convenience stores were the main source of food supplies in the town.

Muneo Aota, an 81-year-old resident, came to the supermarket with his wife and bought peaches and other items.

He used to buy food at a supermarket in Minami-Soma, a 30-minute drive from Namie.

“From now on, it will take only five minutes to go to the supermarket by car,” he said. “I can even walk there. It is very convenient to be able to buy fresh foods nearby.”

The supermarket, operated by retail giant Aeon Co., opened in an area of abandoned stores that have been refurbished. The supermarket has a floor space of 971 square meters and includes an eating and drinking place.

It is open from 6 a.m. on weekdays and Saturdays, making it easier for workers involved in rebuilding to visit.

The store is expected to have 1,000 to 1,500 customers daily.

Namie, which was hit hard by the 2011 tsunami, had a pre-disaster population of around 21,000.

The town is located around 4 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, and many evacuees have decided against returning.

In municipalities where the evacuation orders have been lifted, commercial facilities are gradually popping up based on requests from local authorities.

At the opening ceremony on July 14, Namie Mayor Kazuhiro Yoshida suggested that the Aeon Namie store represents a milestone in rebuilding the town.

“I am moved because (the opening of a supermarket) is like the blossoms of flowers whose seeds we planted for reconstruction,” he said.

(This article was written by Shintaro Egawa and Masahito Iinuma.)