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NAHA, Okinawa — More than 5,500 residents in communities neighboring Kadena Air Base saw their lawsuit protesting jet noise at the U.S. base move up a level in Japan’s legal system Tuesday as an appeals court began hearing testimony in the six-year-old case.

The residents say jet noise from the air base has ruined their health.

Tuesday, four of those residents urged a three-judge panel of the Fukuoka High Court, Naha branch, to reverse a Naha District Court decision. In February 2005, that lower court ordered Japan to pay $26.7 million to compensate 3,881 Okinawans for health-related problems caused by jet aircraft noise.

Neither the Japanese government nor residents were happy with that ruling; both appealed.

The government argued the lower court ignored evidence that adequate steps had been taken to reduce jet noise from the base, including a 1996 agreement restricting 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. aviation activities at the air base to the minimum necessary. Also, the Japanese government spent $1.3 billon to install soundproof windows in more than 42,000 homes and public buildings near the air base. But the lower court found such measures did not effectively abate the noise in the worst-hit neighborhoods.

The 5,542 plaintiffs were unhappy that the court dismissed demands for a halt to night flights. They expressed anger that the court awarded them less than the $59.5 million they sought by excluding 1,661 residents from the suit, saying they lived too far from the base for the noise to be unbearable.

“What we want is not money,” said Takeko Yamashiro during Tuesday’s hearing. “All we seek is [a] quiet night’s sleep that every human being deserves to enjoy.”

Yamashiro, 85, a retired school teacher living in Uruma’s Ishikawa district, said she witnessed a U.S. jet crash into Miyamori Elementary School in 1959, killing 17 people including school children. The jet noise reminds her of that tragedy, she said.

The lower court “told us to bear the noise,” she said. “But for us, the people of Okinawa, noise from military aircraft is not just being noisy, it is abhorrent.”

Hitoshi Toyama, a Kadena Town Council member who lives about 550 feet from the air base’s boundary, said, “When touch-and-go or rapid ascending practice takes place, the noise pierces our bodies.”

He said even though most town council members support the U.S. military presence, they unanimously adopted a resolution calling for suspension of early-morning and late-night flights.

The next hearing is scheduled for July 13.

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