Photo/IllutrationNobuyuki Watanabe checks on kiwi fruit at his farm in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, that was flooded in Typhoon No. 19. (Koichi Tokonami)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Things were finally looking up for Nobuyuki Watanabe, who had lost his kiwi fruit farm in the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

He opened a new farm, produced its first harvest and was regaining old customers while attracting new buyers.

But on Oct. 13, he saw that floodwater nearly reached the top of the 1.8-meter-tall trellis he had installed to grow the fruit. His kiwi fruits were covered with dirt.

“It has been seven years since I started from zero so I cannot feel anything but major disappointment,” Watanabe, 66, said.

Watanabe and a number of other residents in the Tohoku region were still recovering from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster when Typhoon No. 19 set back their efforts on the weekend of Oct. 12 and 13.

The heavy rain brought by the typhoon led to the flooding of the Natsuigawa river, about 500 meters from Watanabe’s farm in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture.

For nearly three decades, Watanabe operated an organic kiwi fruit farm in Okuma, one of the host municipalities of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. He regularly harvested 5 tons of the fruit each year.

But the triple meltdown at the nuclear plant in 2011 turned his home and farm into a what is now classified as a “difficult-to-return” zone.

In 2013, Watanabe bought 1.3 hectares of fallow farmland in Iwaki, about 50 kilometers away.

His first harvest last year produced 2 tons of kiwi fruit. And word of his tasty fruit was spreading.

But his harvest this year is ruined because of the possibility that bacteria in the floodwater may have attached to the fruit surface. He will also have to replace farm equipment that was inundated.

But Watanabe has not given up all hope.

After the water receded, he saw that the trunks of his kiwi trees remained standing and the roots were firmly in place.

He said he expects to harvest several tons of kiwi fruit next year.

“It is not as if I lost my land as was the case in the nuclear accident,” Watanabe said.

In Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, the flooding from the typhoon brought back bitter memories of the tsunami that devastated the city on March 11, 2011.

Around 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 13, water rose on the road in front of the home of Takahiro Abe, 74, and was approaching his front door. He quickly moved the tatami mats to the second floor before the water flooded parts of the first floor.

He said the flooding was minor compared with what happened eight years and seven months ago, when the tsunami brought water to about 1 meter above the floor.

He was forced to live on the second floor for a while after the 3/11 disaster.

Abe used a subsidy system to replace the tsunami-damaged tatami mats and repair the bath and toilet, which cost 2 million yen ($18,500).

Some parts of his home were still unrepaired when the house was again hit by flooding.

The 2011 disaster caused the ground in large parts of Ishinomaki to sink by several tens of centimeters. Abe said his home has been flooded above the first-floor level in heavy rain on two separate occasions.

He had asked city government officials to do something about the flooding, but no real progress has been made.

The situation is more dire for senior citizens without the financial resources to repair their flooded homes.

Tomie Abe, 83, who is not related to Takahiro, spent the night of the typhoon sitting on her bed at her home in Ishinomaki.

During the 2011 tsunami, she remained at home because she thought she would be safe. But water surrounded her home and tatami mats floated in the water.

After Typhoon No. 19, volunteers helped to clear the mud and carry the tatami mats from her home. However, because her pension is her only source of income, Abe said she can only repair her living room and bedroom.

(This article was compiled from reports by Koichi Tokonami and Senior Staff Writer Hideaki Ishibashi.)