MINAMI-SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture--Three elementary and two junior high schools reopened here Oct. 17 for the first time since families fled from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident that started in March.
Part of Minami-Soma had been designated an evacuation standby zone, meaning that residents were required to prepare to immediately evacuate in an emergency. However, many residents, especially those with children, left for other areas on their own.
The designation was lifted in late September and decontamination work was also completed.
The five schools are located in the Haramachi district of the city. They had borrowed rooms and other facilities at schools in Minami-Soma that were outside the evacuation standby zone.
Residents had written "Okaeri" (Welcome back) to the students on the ground of Omika Elementary School, about 21 kilometers from the Fukushima nuclear plant, the closest to the stricken plant among the five.
But concerns remain. The school, citing possible radiation exposure, asked parents and guardians to bring the children in cars.
In the reopening ceremony in the school's gymnasium, principal Katsushige Hirama said, "Let's make many memories without forgetting our smiles today."
Sixth-grader Chikaho Taira, 12, representing the students, said: "We are happy because we were finally able to return to our school. We will make our best efforts for studies and sports."
Omika Elementary School now has 75 students. At the start of the school year on April 1, the school would have had 204 students if not for the March 11 disaster. Many of them transferred to other schools, and on April 19, the number of students had dropped to 56.
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