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Severe rains in western Japan took heavy toll on elderly residents

Firefighters examine a house as they look for survivors, in the Mabicho district of the city of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, on July 10, 2018. (Mainichi)

KURASHIKI, Okayama / OZU, Ehime -- Eighteen more bodies were found in the Mabicho district of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, on July 10, including those of many elderly, highlighting the fact that the torrential rains that devastated wide areas of western Japan took a heavy toll on the weak.

"My sister and her husband must have tried to flee desperately, but only in vain apparently because they were physically weak," said a 71-year-old resident of Miyazaki Prefecture upon visiting Tamashima Police Station on the morning of July 10 to identify the bodies of her relatives. Her elder sister in her 70s was living in a two-story house in Mabicho with her husband in his 80s, assisting her partially paralyzed partner.

When the nearby Oda River flooded on the morning of July 7, the 71-year-old woman called up her elder sister, only to hear no ringtones. As her sister used to evacuate to a temporary shelter with her husband whenever typhoons hit the area, the younger sister assumed that the couple had already evacuated. However, a firefighter subsequently contacted her, saying the couple's bodies had been found.

The couple was discovered collapsed at the foot of stairs in their home alongside their dog. Traces of inundation were found on the second floor, indicating that the couple was unable to flee. "We had just talked over the phone a few days ago, saying we should live long healthy lives," the younger sister said, wiping away tears.

The torrential rains submerged over half of households in the Mabicho district. In particular, the Arii neighborhood of Mabicho suffered the most casualties, with at least eight residents killed within a 250-meter radius, according to a Mainichi Shimbun survey.

The body of one of the victims, a 75-year-old resident, was found at her home in Arii on July 8. A relative visited her home by boat after being unable to get in touch with her, and looked inside the house through fallen roofs, only to find her kin collapsed in water.

The body of another woman in her 70s was also found about 500 meters away. According to neighbors, she had been living by herself since her husband passed away about a month ago. Although her son came to rescue her just before her home was flooded, she was washed away after going back home to pick up her husband's mortuary tablet.

In the neighboring Okada area, 91-year-old resident Shintaro Miyake was found dead. A lone resident, he would use a cart when going out as his legs were weak.

Meanwhile, elderly people struggled to clean up their homes in Ozu, Ehime Prefecture, after at least 3,000 houses were inundated due to the flooding of the Hijikawa River. While work to clear away drenched furniture and other household goods got into full swing, it is often difficult for single-person households comprising of an elderly or female member alone to move heavy furniture. The city's social welfare council set up a disaster volunteer center on July 10, soliciting volunteer workers from within and outside the prefecture.

Fumiko Yamashita clears up her home after it was submerged due to a flooded river, in Ozu, Ehime Prefecture, on July 9, 2018. (Mainichi)

Fumiko Yamashita, 77, a resident of Ozu, received a helping hand from her husband's friend in his 80s on July 9 to remove mud from her house, as her husband has been hospitalized. However, cuts in water supplies prevented them from washing mud away, and they were unable to move a dirt-covered cupboard.

"With help from my husband's friend, I have worked from the morning till now, but haven't been able to clear up my home yet," Yamashita lamented. "I was lucky enough to survive, but I wonder how much it will cost to replace our damaged home appliances."

Yamashita took shelter at a local community center on the afternoon of July 7 after rain started to fall harder, but returned to her home worrying about her dog, named Kuro. It was right after she went back home that the river's water levels began to surge, leaving her barely able to breathe while standing on tiptoes. Just before she was about to drown, firefighters came by boat to her rescue.

"I was unable to move, with my lips shivering from the cold," she said. Her dog was also rescued, but has since gone missing amid post-disaster confusion.

Another local resident Hitomi Yamamoto, 58, had her city-run housing unit inundated above the floor level, with drawers and other furniture submerged. Her books as well as scrapbooks recording her activities as a sign language interpreter were also damaged by water. She is unable to take out her clothes as her drawers won't open.

"I can't remove wet tatami mats by myself," said Yamamoto, who lives on her own. "Without someone's help, I have no way out."

(Japanese original by Ryohei Masukawa, Sayuri Toda and Nana Hayashida, Okayama Bureau, Yudai Katami, Takamatsu Bureau, and Tomohiro Katahira, Tokyo City News Department)

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