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Construction crunch slows tsunami rebuilding

TANOHATA, Japan--Tens of thousands of people on Japan's northeastern coast who were left homeless in the March 2011 tsunami are shivering their way through yet another winter in cramped temporary housing, with perhaps several more to go.

Reconstruction plans are taking shape after three years of debate and red tape, but shortages of skilled workers and materials are delaying the work. In areas such as Tanohata, a fishing town of 3,800 along a scenic stretch of craggy cliffs and forests, less than a tenth of the new housing has been built. Overall, the figure is less than 8 percent completed, and less than a quarter of projects started.

As Japan's over-stretched construction industry begins gearing up to build venues and revamp aging infrastructure for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, shortages of skilled carpenters and heavy equipment operators as well as cement and other materials, are frustrating residents and local officials.

“It's just cold, so very cold,” Shio Hironai, 53, said of the hut that has served as home since the 20-meter wave slammed into one of the town's tiny coves. “And the roof is caving in. It has been all along.”

Japan on Tuesday marks the third anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters known as 3.11 that killed 15,884 people and left 2,636 unaccounted for on its northern coast. The country has struggled to rebuild tsunami-hit towns and to clean up radiation from the nuclear crisis. It has earmarked 25 trillion yen (US$250 billion) for reconstruction through to March 2016. About 50,000 people from Fukushima are still unable to return home due to concerns over radiation.

Hironai, a former fish factory worker who now helps assemble fishing lures in a workshop set up to provide jobs after the disaster, said she hopes to finally move into a new home by May. “The carpenters are just too busy. We had to find a new company to do the work.”

In Tanohata and many other places in Iwate prefecture and elsewhere, groundwork is still not finished for most of the homes due to be rebuilt. Further to the south in Otsuchi, crews work until dark, rain or shine, leveling land for public housing units, a few here, a few there — wherever land can be cleared away from the most hazardous areas along the seaside.

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A car drives past a housing complex in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan on March 4. Some resettlement projects have been purpose-built to suit the region, like this 70-home complex that resembles a movie set from decades past, with wooden, traditional-style row houses sitting on a rise above a river.

(AP)

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