FJA Shortlist 2021

Category: Outstanding Investigative Reporting

Author: Nanami Nakagawa

Abandoned at Futaba Hospital

The original publication is available via the following links:

English: https://en.tansajp.org/investigativejournal_category/futaba-hospital/ 

Japanese: https://tansajp.org/investigativejournal_category/futaba-hospital/

“Evacuation complete” with 227 patients left behind during Fukushima disaster (1)

Tokyo Investigative Newsroom Tansa - March 10, 2021

By Nanami Nakagawa

The Fukushima nuclear disaster proved deadly for at least 45 patients at Futaba Hospital and residents of nearby retirement home Deauville Futaba, located just 4.5 kilometers southwest of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

On March 12, 2011, the day after the plant had been crippled by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the prime minister ordered the evacuation of all residents within a 10-kilometer radius of Fukushima No. 1. In theory, the evacuation should have been completed that day. But the last of the hospital patients and retirement home residents only made it out on March 16, five days after the accident began.

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SDF waited 27 hours for hazmat suits as hospital begged for help (2)

Tokyo Investigative Newsroom Tansa - March 17, 2021

By Nanami Nakagawa

At 2 p.m. on March 12, 2011, the day after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Okuma mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe departed his town, believing its evacuation complete. But contrary to Watanabe’s assumptions, 277 patients and residents still awaited rescue at Futaba Hospital and adjoining retirement home Deauville Futaba.

Only three staff remained at the two facilities from that evening until dawn on March 14: Futaba Hospital Director Ichiro Suzuki, and the director and office head of Deauville Futaba. While looking after their 277 charges, the three scoured the deserted area for help.

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“Some patients are bedridden” — misinformation impeded rescue mission (3)

Tokyo Investigative Newsroom Tansa - March 23, 2021

By Nanami Nakagawa

Midnight on March 14, 2011. At last equipped with hazmat suits, a unit from the Self-Defense Forces’ 12th brigade departed Camp Koriyama to rescue the 277 patients and residents who had been left behind at Futaba Hospital and retirement home Deauville Futaba as the area surrounding the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was evacuated.

Although the unit, then sans hazmat suits, had attempted the journey once before, at 3 p.m. on March 12, a hydrogen explosion at the damaged plant’s unit 1 had prompted them to return to Koriyama for proper gear.

Twenty-seven hours later, the rescue mission finally began its second attempt.

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The collapse of the offsite center (4)

Tokyo Investigative Newsroom Tansa - March 29, 2021

By Nanami Nakagawa

At 11:20 a.m. on March 14, 2011, the commanding officer of a Self-Defense Forces unit tasked with rescuing patients left behind at Futaba Hospital and retirement home Deauville Futaba during the Fukushima nuclear disaster went to the nearby offsite center to use its phone to request backup.

Although his unit had managed to evacuate 132 patients that morning, there were still 92 left at the hospital, in addition to the bodies of three who had passed away. They needed help as soon as possible.

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The doctor separated from his patients (5)

Tokyo Investigative Newsroom Tansa - April 9, 2021

By Nanami Nakagawa

Meltdown. Leaving the evacuation of residents near Fukushima No. 1 still incomplete, responders retreated as the situation at the crippled nuclear plant worsened on March 14 and 15, 2011.

In their haste to put some distance between themselves and the radiation, members of the Self-Defense Forces left behind oil drums still full of fuel.

The offsite center, tasked with leading the local emergency response, also found themselves too close to the nuclear plant for comfort. They decided to relocate.

At Futaba Hospital, hospital director Ichiro Suzuki was persuaded by Futaba Deputy Police Chief Akimasa Nitta to temporarily leave his charges until it was safe to return.

Their group — comprised of four hospital staff and eight police officers, split between two police vehicles — made for Wariyama Tunnel, about 20 kilometers southwest of Fukushima No. 1. Distanced from the nuclear plant and with a roof of sorts over their heads, they hoped waiting at the tunnel would give them a measure of protection from radiation.

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35 patients left behind for fourth time as miscommunication plagued SDF rescue operation (6)

Tokyo Investigative Newsroom Tansa - April 13, 2021

By Nanami Nakagawa

On March 14 and 15, 2011, responders scrambled for safety as increasing levels of radiation escaped from Fukushima No. 1’s damaged unit 2.

Futaba Hospital Director Ichiro Suzuki, Futaba Deputy Police Chief Akimasa Nitta, and others at the hospital were forced to leave behind the 92 patients still awaiting rescue and retreat to Wariyama Tunnel, about 20 kilometers southwest of the nuclear plant.

Although they had hoped to link up with Self-Defense Forces coming from Camp Koriyama, before they knew it the SDF had arrived at Futaba Hospital and begun evacuating patients.

This lack of communication and coordination would undermine the rescue operation again and again.

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25 dead in five days (7)

Tokyo Investigative Newsroom Tansa - April 20, 2021

By Nanami Nakagawa

When the Fukushima nuclear disaster began on March 11, 2011, there was a total of 436 patients and residents in Futaba Hospital and nearby retirement home Deauville Futaba. By the afternoon of March 15, groups of patients and residents had been transported from the hospital on four separate occasions — but the evacuation still wasn’t complete.

First, 209 were evacuated on March 12 on buses provided by the government, leaving 227 at the two facilities.

Next, a unit from the Self-Defense Forces 12th brigade evacuated 132 on March 14. Ninety-two patients and three corpses were left at the hospital.

At 11 a.m. on March 15, a unit from the SDF’s Tohoku headquarters evacuated 48 patients, leaving behind 44.

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No closure for relatives or citizens seeking answers (8)

The evacuation of 431 patients and residents from Futaba Hospital and retirement home Deauville Futaba was completed on March 16, 2011. It had taken five days and five separate rescue efforts to get them all out.

But evacuation wasn’t synonymous with safety. Hard-pressed to find evacuation centers or hospitals that would take them in and lacking sufficient medical care, 25 patients had passed away by the end of March 16.

Another 20 died in the ensuing three months, brining the total number of victims of the mismanaged evacuation to 45.

Masakatsu Kanno’s father, Kenzo (then 99), was one such patient.

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