Local authorities on Friday began construction of temporary housing units for people whose homes were damaged by a powerful earthquake that struck central Japan on New Year's Day.

The Ishikawa prefectural government is planning to build 115 makeshift houses in Wajima and Suzu -- the two cities hardest hit by the magnitude-7.6 temblor -- and 60 more in the adjacent towns of Noto and Anamizu in about a month.

Due to severe damage to roads in the area, around 1,900 people remain cut off in the prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast. The death toll from the disaster stood at 215 as of Friday afternoon, according to the local government.

Surveying work is conducted on Jan. 12, 2024, in the schoolyard of an elementary school in Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture, as local authorities begin construction of temporary housing units for people affected by an earthquake on New Year's Day. (Kyodo)

Of the 215, 14 were not directly killed in the earthquake but are believed to have died due to health issues associated with the disaster, such as the stress of being evacuated.

There are 28 people still unaccounted for, while the number of evacuees staying at evacuation centers, hotels and other facilities, totaled 22,851, as of Friday.

Evacuees were seen visiting the Wajima city office from early in the morning as the municipality began accepting applications for temporary housing.

"If I can settle down in temporary housing, I can get some peace of mind," said Kumiko Hatakenaka, 63.

Kazuhiko Soryo, 53, who has been taking refuge with his 76-year-old mother and brother in an evacuation center after the quake titled their home, also expressed eagerness in rebuilding his life.

"Living in an evacuation center has its limits. I'm happy to apply (for the housing)," he said.

Temporary houses are provided by local governments free of charge for disaster-stricken people based on the Disaster Relief Act, giving them somewhere to reside for up to two years or until they find alternate housing.

Photo taken on Jan. 11, 2024, shows a tsunami-ravaged area in Suzu in central Japan's Ishikawa Prefecture, following a strong earthquake on Jan. 1. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Temporary housing units are either prefabricated or wooden one-story homes equipped with toilets, bathrooms and kitchens and will be available in multiple floor plans for singles and families.

Evacuees are also being offered an option to move to existing private rental housing, with their rent covered by local governments.

The government is ready to provide around 5,500 rental housing units within Ishikawa Prefecture, and around 17,000 units in surrounding prefectures, for evacuees, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said.

As concerns grow over the health conditions of seniors in the disaster-stricken elder care facilities, over 200 seniors, or around half of the planned total, have already been transferred to other areas, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Wajima, meanwhile, is also considering a mass evacuation targeting all 400 students attending its public junior high schools to offer a better learning environment, as schools in the city are now used as evacuation centers for residents and commuting routes are no longer safe due to damaged roads.

Under the plan, students who wish to evacuate are expected to stay at training centers in Hakusan, a southern city in Ishikawa Prefecture, for around two months. But parents will not be allowed to accompany their children, making it a rare student-only evacuation.

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