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Certainly, they have reason to be frustrated with the pace of relief and recovery, but it’s hard to imagine any government performing better given the devastation of ports and other infrastructure and the sheer scale of the disaster.
Opposition politicians churlishly criticized the government for not meeting its target of building 30,000 temporary houses for evacuees by June, but it managed to build 27,200 units, an impressive performance in 10 weeks given shortages of building materials, difficulty in finding suitable sites and damage to transport networks.
As the search for victims continued, the official count of those confirmed dead or still missing rose to about 28,500.
However, as more people thought to be missing were found to be alive, that figure began to drop; by the end of 2011 it had been reduced to some 19,300.
But tsunami news had to compete with the cricket World Cup being staged at that time in India, so it was strange watching local coverage flipping from a game I don’t understand to scenes of devastation I could barely comprehend.
Under the dire circumstances of a complex catastrophe involving the triple whammy of an unprecedented earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, Kan managed the initial relief operations reasonably well.
Within two weeks of the disaster, the Japanese government’s official count of deaths had exceeded 10,000; more than one and a half times that number were still listed as missing and presumed dead.
By then it was evident that the earthquake and tsunami constituted one of the deadliest natural disasters in Japanese history, rivaling the major earthquake and tsunami that had occurred off the coast of Iwate prefecture in June 1896.
In contrast to initial rescue and relief operations for the 1995 Kobe earthquake, when the Liberal Democratic Party-dominated coalition government was paralyzed, Kan immediately mobilized 100,000 troops and accepted international offers of assistance.
Tsunami disaster relief has been reasonably fast and effective under difficult circumstances, and evacuees received basic needs.