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Warnings over landslides in Hiroshima came too late

Publication Date : 21-08-2014

 

The Hiroshima city government’s response to the deadly rain-triggered landslides that left scores dead or missing will likely be questioned because it issued evacuation notices to residents after the disaster had already occurred.

Since a similar mudslide disaster occurred in 1999, killing 20, the city government has been designating “special caution” and “caution” zones that marked locations vulnerable to sediment disasters.

But most of the areas damaged by Wednesday’s disaster were likely not in any of the designated zones. The evacuation notices are seen to have been issued too late, so the administration’s handling of the situation will likely be scrutinized.

According to the city government, firefighting authorities began fielding emergency calls from around 2am Wednesday with one of the callers saying, “Water is coming into my house.”

At 3:30am, the city government established its disaster prevention headquarters. Shortly after 4 a.m., the city government issued the first evacuation notice across four districts in Asa-Kita Ward and opened a shelter at a nearby primary school. Evacuation notices were then issued to about a dozen districts in the ward as well as Asa-Minami Ward.

But emergency authorities had been receiving reports from residents about the landslide from around 3:20am meaning damage had likely been sustained by the time the first evacuation notice was issued.

Intermittent but heavy rain had been falling in the city from Tuesday evening. Eight fire stations in the city had deployed the standard number of about 330 personnel on watch duty.

The previous landslide disaster in June 1999 resulted in 116 houses and buildings being partially destroyed or severely damaged. Twenty people died and 45 were injured.

In response to the disaster, the Hiroshima prefectural government has posted maps online marking sites that are vulnerable to sediment disasters since fiscal 2002, and has continued to remind residents of the dangers.

The prefectural government also rolled out a disaster prevention system in 2005 that informs residents of torrential rain warnings and rainfall data by e-mail.

In 2001, the central government enacted the Sediment Disasters Prevention Law. The law stipulates that prefectural governments must conduct on-site research on slope zones vulnerable to landslides and other sediment disasters, and designate particularly at-risk places as caution or special caution zones.

According to the Hiroshima prefectural government’s sediment control division, the prefectural government had designated 1,698 locations as special caution zones and 1,877 locations as caution zones in the city as of April this year.

Discussing Wednesday’s affected areas, a prefectural government official said: “According to our current estimates, the Kabe-Higashi district of Asa-Kita Ward was likely included in a caution zone susceptible to such disasters as mudslides. But as far as we can tell so far, the other districts were not designated.”

Another official remarked: “Designation work has not progressed sufficiently partly because of issues regarding the securing of a workforce. The public has been informed that many of the sites in the affected areas were dangerous zones. There’s the possibility that these sites could have carried enough risk to warrant being designated as caution zones.”

 

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