Rain eases but landslide risks in Kyushu remain

Japan Self-Defence soldiers and firefighters searching for a missing resident in a collapsed house in Kagoshima prefecture, Kyushu Island, yesterday after a landslide caused by heavy rain. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Japan Self-Defence soldiers and firefighters searching for a missing resident in a collapsed house in Kagoshima prefecture, Kyushu Island, yesterday after a landslide caused by heavy rain. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Japan has warned of landslide risks after days of heavy rains, despite lifting a blanket evacuation order which saw just 0.6 per cent of the hardest-hit Kagoshima City's 600,000 residents seeking refuge at the city's designated shelters.

The low turnout indicates a lack of urgency and underscores the challenge that municipal governments face in persuading residents to put their own safety first amid the prevailing "it will never happen to me" mindset.

It is not compulsory for people to seek refuge at these shelters, so long as they can ascertain their safety if their homes are not located near high-risk areas.

But given that just 3,453 people had sought shelter at its peak, Kagoshima Mayor Hiroyuki Mori told broadcaster NHK yesterday: "I think the degree of urgency and the sense of danger was not felt by the citizens despite the city's efforts at crisis management. We must look at how to better respond in future."

The widespread evacuation orders and advisories put in place for Japan's south-western Kyushu Island on Wednesday were mostly lifted as of last night, after record-breaking rainfall lashed the region from last Friday.

The deluge has claimed two lives - a woman in her 70s and another in her 80s died after their homes were crushed by mudslides.

Five other people were injured.

At least 38 landslides have been confirmed in the worst-hit Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Kumamoto prefectures, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported.

Entire cities had been asked to evacuate on Wednesday, at the height of the torrential rain.

About 1.12 million people - including those in Kagoshima - were under "evacuation orders", while another 869,000 people were covered by the less urgent "evacuation advisory". And some 1.32 million were told to "prepare" to flee if conditions worsened.

News pictures yesterday showed journalists, donning helmets and rain gear, reporting from the scene near flooded rice paddy fields and mudslides that have blocked roads, although few homes seemed to have been damaged.

Some areas of Kyushu have received as much as 1,000mm of rain, more than double the usual volume for an average July, said NHK.

Some areas have also seen more rain in one day than in a typical month. The Japan Meteorological Agency warned residents in Kyushu to remain on high alert for mudslides, adding that while the rain has eased up for now, more rain is expected this weekend.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2019, with the headline 'Rain eases but landslide risks in Kyushu remain'. Print Edition | Subscribe