District chief refused to flee
On March 13, when the 25 evacuees fled from Mizue Kanno's home, the head of the neighboring Shimo-Tsushima district, Hidenori Konno, heard about the men wearing white protective clothing from Kanno, who had come to his home.
However, he didn't flee. He thought it best not to panic without reliable information. Most of all, as head of the district, Konno, 64, certainly couldn't leave ahead of others.
At 10 a.m. on March 15, he was called to the headquarters of the task force at the Tsushima branch office and was told that the branch office would be moved to Nihonmatsu in the same prefecture.
Why? Tsushima lies 30 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Wasn't it supposedly safe? It took a while before he could grasp the situation.
Just then, a news conference of government officials was being broadcast on TV. They were ordering people in the area between the 20-km and 30-km radiuses to take refuge indoors. The staff couldn't take their eyes off the TV. Was this the reason the office was being moved?
In the afternoon, Konno visited each of the 50 homes in Shimo-Tsushima, telling people to take refuge.
Most houses were empty with the curtains drawn, but 10 families remained. He cautioned them to evacuate, but they refused. Three of the families said they couldn't leave because of their cattle. There were also bedridden elderly among them.
Konno had his wife, 55, and oldest daughter, 23, evacuate, but he stayed in the district.
The district fell silent after the majority of evacuees left and the melee subsided. That night, the rain turned to snow and the road was blanketed in white. It was quiet.
On March 16, once again he made the rounds of the 50 homes, thinking that some families might have been absent when he visited the day before. Five families that had fled had returned.
An elderly man said that he and his wife had come back because his wife was in a wheelchair and it was difficult for her to use the bathroom at the evacuation shelter. The husband told him, "The radioactivity doesn't matter. We're old. This is where we'll live." Konno found a different shelter that could accommodate a wheelchair and told the man about it.
"The district will vanish."
Konno felt frustrated as he drove through the deserted district.
He had been a prefectural public servant and was planning on pouring his energy into preserving the local traditional arts, but that dream of life after retirement was gone.
Konno borrowed a measuring device from the town, and in July, began measuring radioactivity levels at each house in the district. He mailed that data to the house owners, wherever they had fled.
He was doing so not because he was instructed by the prefecture nor the town. When he heard about the men in protective clothing, he thought that if only he had known about the high levels of radiation in Tsushima, he would have tried harder to get the residents to leave. He took readings because he regretted that he hadn't been able to do so.
The yards of the homes have been overrun with weeds. The plants that his father, who died three years earlier, had so carefully raised have all withered.