Historic levels of torrential rain have hit western Japan, wreaking havoc in wide areas by triggering floods and landslides. For the first time in the 30 years of the Heisei era Japan experienced downpours that killed more than 100 people. Many people remain missing, and up to 8.63 million people became subject to orders or recommendations to evacuate issued by local governments.
Self-Defense Force members, police and firefighters are on the scene to evacuate residents isolated in affected areas, using helicopters and boats. Search and rescue operations are also underway with people scouring toppled housing units in a bid to save lives as they work against the clock.
The torrential rains were caused by a seasonal rain front and a large amount of hot wet air clashing. As the southern and northern high pressure air masses had a similar strength, the rain front ended up staying over Japan for several days, unleashing huge downpours that brought record rainfall at 119 observation points.
The reasons behind the massive damage include landslides hitting houses as well as rivers flooding in multiple areas. In the Mabicho district in the city of Kurashiki in the western Japan prefecture of Okayama, more than a quarter of the land area was submerged under floodwater. At one point, about 300 patients and residents were trapped at a local hospital.
Okayama Prefecture was not previously known to experience massive amounts of rainfall. However, this time, the local Mabicho office of the Kurashiki city hall stopped functioning due to flooding and a blackout, and officials there were unable to confirm the extent of damage caused by the torrential rains. The mayor of Kurashiki admits that she didn't expect water levels to rise so rapidly.
Meanwhile, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued emergency warnings for torrential rains to 11 prefectures, alerting residents that natural disasters experienced only once in decades were imminent. In the western Japan prefecture of Ehime, a warning was issued only at 5:50 a.m. on July 8, after damage caused by the massive downpour expanded. We would like to reconfirm the importance of disaster prevention responses by local governments, such as issuing evacuation orders, even before the JMA releases emergency warnings.
With such a large area affected by the heavy rains, the central government must now ensure that reconstruction work proceeds properly. The decision by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to cancel his planned trip to Europe and the Middle East is understandable considering the gravity of the situation at home.
Roads are blocked in many areas including in Hiroshima Prefecture, and it is difficult to distribute aid materials. Hasty efforts must be made to secure transportation routes and establish an effective network supporting the affected areas. The lessons learned in restoring areas damaged by massive tsunami in northern Japan from the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 will play an important role in giving direction to reconstruction projects.
It will take time to rebuild some damaged facilities and infrastructure, including electricity, gas and road networks. Moreover, evacuees may have to wait for a long time before they can return to their homes. As the extremely hot summer season begins, we want the central and local governments to provide affected residents with appropriate care.