Photo/Illutration People plant flowers at a permanent public housing complex for evacuees in Aoba Ward in Sendai in November 2020. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

In the 10 years following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, the death toll among evacuees living alone in temporary or permanent public housing in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures continues rising.

According to the National Police Agency, the count in the three prefectures totaled 614 between 2011 and 2020, based on reports from the three prefectural police departments. 

Almost all the deaths, handled by police, are believed to be “solitary deaths” related to evacuation.  

The police hold inquests over deaths, except for cases in which people died at hospitals or at home with their family members at their sides with the cause of death being little in doubt.

The count targeted disaster victims living alone at the time of their deaths, including cases where they died outside their homes. Many are believed to have died of illnesses, including having committed suicide. 

Of the 614 deaths, 273 residents lived at temporary makeshift housing while 341 resided at permanent public housing for evacuees.  

Residents aged 65 or older accounted for 68.4 percent of the total, with 59.7 percent among temporary housing residents and 75.4 percent among permanent housing for evacuees. 

Broken down by prefecture, Iwate had 154 deaths composed of 75 at temporary housing and 79 at permanent housing. Miyagi had 305 deaths of which 109 were in temporary housing and 196 in permanent housing. Fukushima counted 155 deaths consisting of 89 in the former and 66 in the latter. 

Between 2011 and 2015, 224 evacuees died over the five years.

For the next five years between 2016 and 2020, 390 died. In 2011, 17 evacuees died.

From 2012 through 2016, the number of deaths trended upward as 40 to less than 70 evacuees died every year. In 2017, the tally reached 90 deaths while in 2018 it increased to 99. In 2019 and 2020, 69 and 78 died, respectively. 

Since 2017, the number of solitary deaths of disaster victims living alone in permanent public housing exceeded that of temporary housing residents as more permanent housing complexes were built over the years. 

Of the 78 deaths in 2020, 77 lived in permanent housing while one lived in temporary makeshift housing in Fukushima Prefecture.