” OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–A flock of swans have returned to this coastal Fukushima town to pass the winter, giving hope to residents who remain evacuated from Okuma since the disaster unfurled at the nearby Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011.
At the mouth of the Kumagawa River in Okuma, located just 3 kilometers from the crippled plant, 17 swans have made it their winter haven since late November.
A volunteer patrol group comprising retired Okuma town officials feed the idyllic birds as part of their daily routine in the hopes that their return will herald that of all the approximately 10,000 evacuated residents.
“It is comforting to see these birds returning to this town as if nothing had happened here,” said Tsunemitsu Yokoyama, 63, one of the six members of the group, which calls itself the “old men’s squad.”
Dressed in protective suits, Yokoyama and another member of the group fed rice to the swans on Dec. 12 at the river’s mouth. A number of large concrete blocks from a breakwater that was wrecked by the towering tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, remain scattered about the area.
After the triple meltdowns at the nuclear plant, a large portion of the town, which co-hosts the crippled plant with Futaba, was designated as difficult-to-return zones, forcing all residents to scatter across the country.
“I wish the town could reward these birds with a resident certificate or something because they are eager to live here instead of all of us,” said Yokoyama, the former chief of the town’s disaster recovery section. ”