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Waterlogged trash accumulates after torrential rains in western Japan

Furniture and other household items rendered unusable due to flooding from torrential rainfall in western Japan are seen piled up in a vacant lot in the Mabicho district of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, on July 12, 2018. (Mainichi)

KURASHIKI, Okayama -- What should be done with the massive volumes of garbage that have been generated as a result of the torrential downpours in western Japan? This is one of the most serious questions faced by communities affected by the disaster.

Food gone bad, as well as waterlogged furniture and electrical appliances have been piling up in at least 10 vacant lots and rice paddy plots here in the city's Mabicho district, where some 30 percent of the community was submerged underwater as a result of the heavy rains. The mounds of garbage have become a source of unpleasant odors, and as the relentless heat continues, there are public health concerns about how to protect oneself from infection when cleaning up after the disaster.

The breach of the banks of a tributary of the Takahashi River caused flooding in a broad area here in the Mabicho district. Residents with pickup trucks and other vehicles arrived in droves at a vacant lot in a residential area in the northern part of the district around noon on July 11, and left behind garbage, including furniture, electrical appliances and clothing.

Trash began to accumulate at the vacant lot when the water began to recede from the space around July 10. Mud-covered appliances and furniture are stacked about 2 meters high for a distance of at least 50 meters. There was food among the garbage as well, such as potatoes in plastic bags and pickled shallots in jars, and a sharp odor wafted through the air.

A 75-year-old woman living nearby whose home's first floor had been completely submerged underwater came to the lot with a broken refrigerator, clothes, and bedding. The woman, who lives with her husband, said, "We have to clean up our home. I feel badly, but I have no choice but to leave these things here."

The Kurashiki Municipal Government hastily set up a temporary trash collection site for disaster-related garbage within Mabicho, but there are no prospects yet for when the trash will be collected for incineration. The municipal government has its hands full just collecting regular household trash, and is utterly short of manpower. "The garbage is sure to increase, but we don't have any effective measures to deal with it," a city official said.

Garbage is causing a massive headache in the Hiroshima Prefecture city of Kure, where landslides caused by the downpours were widespread. There are two garbage processing plants in the city, but one is currently not in operation because the cooling system for its incinerator has been stopped due to the disrupted water supply.

Like the Kurashiki Municipal Government, the Kure Municipal Government has set up a temporary garbage collection facility. But as with Kurashiki, a Kure official said, "We have no idea when we'll be able to start collecting the trash."

The process of cleaning up after the disaster requires precautions toward infections. On July 10, the Japanese Society for Infection Prevention and Control released infection prevention measures for those living in disaster-stricken areas in western Japan, including wearing thick gloves, dust-protective masks and clothes that do not reveal too much skin. According to the organization, muddy water is contaminated by sewage, as well as the waste of livestock, and can cause tetanus if it comes into contact with cuts and scrapes on the skin.

(Japanese original by Akihiko Tsuchida and Hayaki Takeda, Osaka City News Department)

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