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Japanese elderly bear brunt of tsunami's force

Japanese elderly bear brunt of tsunami's force
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Katsuo Maiya is 73 and his wife Masako 67. They are looking for her 71-year-old sister Taeko Kanno and Kanno’s husband.

They rushed from their home in the hills when the tsunami surged into Rikuzentakata, only to find the town had become a muddy wasteland with barely a building standing.

It is obvious from their faces and body language, as well as the devastation, that there is no hope of finding them alive. The missing couple were spotted trying to flee the wave on foot, but they were too slow to keep up with their neighbours.

The earthquake and tsunami took their heaviest toll among the elderly.

Many survivors are still in danger, even those in temporary shelters. Doctors have seen cases of hypothermia, serious dehydration and respiratory diseases.

Kenji Furuuchi, 55, an official from the town of Kawaguchi, drove mostly elderly villagers to an evacuation facility in Koriyama. “Some have been in shelters for a rather long time, four or five days,” he said, “and I think they are getting tired. And now quite a lot of fatigue awaits them at this one.”

Almost a quarter of Japan’s population is aged 65 or over. Many of the small coastal towns hit by the tsunami had long suffered from an exodus of young people to the cities.

In the large gyms and other shelters there is little food and sometimes no running water. One official said the authorities simply lacked the means to provide good care.