Typhoon-hit areas in Japan struggle in aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis

Kyodo News

Posted at Oct 16 2019 05:06 AM

Destroyed houses are seen, in the aftermath of Typhoon Hagibis, in Koriyama, Fukushima prefecture, Japan on October 15, 2019. Soe Zeya Tun, Reuters

Areas devastated by Typhoon Hagibis are struggling to recover after the most powerful typhoon to hit Japan in decades caused record-breaking rainfall, massive flooding, mudslides, and electricity and water outages in various parts of the country.

Authorities in Marumori, Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan, had a hard time realizing at first just how severe the problems were as the damage was so widespread, but they are now starting to grasp the extent of the damage, three days after flooding ravaged the town.

"I don't want to use the word 'unexpected,' but I was shocked," said Mayor Kunio Hoshina during a press conference held at the town office on Tuesday afternoon.

Two bodies were found in the mountainous region of Mawarikura, as trees were toppled by the landslides, leaving the mountainside bare. The main road leading to the village also collapsed.

Takeo Otsuki, 75, who was standing stunned near his house, recounted that "it made a loud noise like thunder" as he talked about the moment the landslide occurred.

A total of 170 mudslides have so far been reported in 19 of Japan's 47 prefectures and collapsed embankments at 73 locations along 52 rivers have been confirmed.

With people still thought to be missing, prefectural police and other authorities continued around-the-clock search and rescue efforts in the affected areas. Residents in regions cut off due to landslides continued to await help, with some signaling for help by spelling out the words "water" and "food" in the ground.

Of the seven confirmed casualties in Motomiya, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, five were 70 years old or older, with many found on the first floor of their homes.

"They probably weren't able to evacuate vertically due to bad legs," said a resident.

Many local people also spoke of the major flood of Aug. 5, 1986, when the river embankment collapsed in several places.

"The water during 8/5 came up to around my waist. I was surprised to see koi fish float into my room," said a 69-year-old man who lives around 50 meters from the banks of the Abukuma River.

Also in Fukushima, six people in Iwaki city died as a result of the Natsui River overflowing, and the whereabouts of a 97-year-old bedridden woman remain unknown.

Her second son, 65, had received a call from his older brother, 70, around 4 a.m. on Sunday to help evacuate their mother, whose house was inundated to the ceiling.

When he arrived, he saw his brother trying to get her to safety by using a mattress, but could only watch as the two were quickly swept away by the current into the darkness. Only the brother was rescued a few kilometers away, around an hour and a half later.

"I keep regretting that I didn't get there to help 30 minutes earlier...I don't care in what form, I just hope they find her soon," the second son said.

Meanwhile, in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, widespread water outages continued. Hospital staff were working hard to keep artificial dialysis treatments running, a procedure that requires large volumes of water.

Even though many of the staff also had their homes damaged in the typhoon, they have still managed to make around nine round trips a day between a water distribution reservoir and the hospital since Monday, as they tried to secure the approximately 18 tons of water required.

"Taking responsibility for protecting the lives of our patients is our duty. We have no choice but to do it," said the director of the hospital.

Even a 47-story tower condominium in the Musashi-Kosugi area of Kawasaki city, Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, continued to experience electricity and water outages.

"I never thought this would happen," said a 44-year-old man, who climbed numerous flights of stairs to reach his residence above the 30th floor.

With electrical systems in the basement damaged by flooding, drainage work was still ongoing.

Student volunteers and others assembled to aid in cleanup efforts throughout Nagano Prefecture, which was badly hit by the typhoon.

On Tuesday morning, amid occasional chilly winds, volunteers worked to carry out dirty furniture and strip the tatami floors in the flooded home of Kazuyoshi Kanai in Chikuma city.

"I didn't know what to do as I've never experienced a flood before. They are a great help," the 68-year-old said with a smile.

Takehiro Nakazawa, 19, volunteered with two friends, as his school was closed.

"I have friends whose houses were flooded, but my house was safe. If there's anything I can do (to help), I want to do it," he said.