Citizens turn in valuables found in post-quake debris
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Unclaimed money and other valuables found in post-quake debris have been handed in en masse to authorities in hard-hit areas along the Japanese coast since the deadly March 11 disaster, which killed thousands and wiped out homes and property.
AFP - Hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of Japanese yen found in towns and villages destroyed by a huge earthquake and tsunami have been handed in since the March 11 disaster, police said Saturday.
Police stations in the worst-hit areas along Japan's northeast coast say that every day, rescue workers and concerned citizens bring in unclaimed money, but finding out who owns it is a challenge.
"Money and other valuables are constantly being brought in to local police stations," said a police spokesman in Miyagi prefecture, one of the areas hit hardest by the biggest earthquake ever recorded in Japan.
Some Japanese have even returned to their homes to find other people's valuables were swept in by the vast torrent of water that slammed into the northeast coast last month, and have handed them over to police.
Survivors of the disaster, which left nearly 28,000 people dead or missing, say the money should be used to help rebuild devastated towns and villages.
Under Japanese law, anyone who finds the money can keep it if the original owners do not come forward within three months, but if they do not claim it, ownership transfers to local authorities or the owner of the property where it was found.
There have been isolated reports of looting in the aftermath of the disaster -- one bank in Miyagi had 40 million yen ($470,000) stolen from its vault.
But Japanese people pride themselves on their sense of civic duty, and crime levels have remained relatively low despite the scale of the disaster.
News agency Kyodo reported that a 69-year-old man in tsunami-hit Ishinomaki prefecture recently handed over to police a black bag containing 1,200 dollars'-worth of cash and a woman's driving licence.
"Hopefully, she survived," the man told Kyodo, as he gave up any claim on the money and left the police station.
The head of Japan's Disaster Prevention System Institute has urged authorities to extend the three-month period people have to claim their belongings in the wake of Japan's worst crisis since World War II.
Takehiko Yamamura also called for authorities to be granted special permission to open safes found in the disaster zone so that their owners can be identified and any property inside returned.