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Homes left damaged in Hiroshima town after landslides wipe out mud control dam

Damaged homes are seen in the Koyaura district of Saka, Hiroshima Prefecture, where the division between the Tenchi River and residential areas is no longer clear. (Mainichi)

SAKA, Hiroshima -- As the Koyaura district of the Hiroshima Prefecture town of Saka baked in hot weather on July 14 and 15, the devastating impact of landslides following recent downpours remained strikingly visible from along the banks of the local Tenchi River flowing through the middle of the area.

When a large mud control dam that was supposed to stop landslides burst, mud smashed into homes, and large boulders and trees were piled up all over the district.

"This is so painful," said a 60-year-old woman in the area as she headed toward the local elementary school now serving as an evacuation center, turning away from boulders that had been carried into residential areas.

The woman lives by herself in a single-story home in the district. On the evening of July 6, she tried to evacuate, but the water pressure from a muddy stream of water prevented her from opening the door. "Maybe being in a small space is safer," she thought, and got on a stepladder in her bathroom, spending the night trembling at the thunderous sound of rocks coming down the hillside. Even now at the shelter, she jumps at the sound of people's footsteps.

It is thought that the muddy stream of water started to overflow into the residential area at about 7:30 p.m. on July 6. Noriko Koge, a 62-year-old resident who lives next to the river received a phone call from a friend asking her to come and help, but the flow of water was fast and she couldn't make any ground. It then gradually got stronger and she could see the large heaving of the current in the darkness.

When another resident, 53-year-old Tsumoru Taniguchi, returned to the area on July 8 from a business trip, the thought that crossed his mind was, "Where is all this water coming from?" and he went to check the mud control dam, only to discover that it wasn't there. The dam had towered 11 meters high and measured roughly 50 meters across, with a thickness of about 2 meters, but all that remained was the masonry at either end. The central part looked like it had been hit by an explosion, and two homes that had stood only about 50 meters away were completely flattened.

Nobue Yokofuji, 71, who lived by the river further downstream, had the first floor of her home piled up with about 30 centimeters of sand and stones, and at the entrance of her home there was more than 1 meter of mud. On the evening of July 6, the muddy flow cracked a window at the entrance of her home, and she evacuated to the second floor. The following morning she and her neighbors called out to each other asking if they were alive.

"I don't know what's going to happen. I just have to start with what I can do," she said tearfully while cleaning up her home.

For Akira Koge, 63, the disaster brought back memories of a warning from his father. "When I think about it now, it was just like my dad said," he recalled while shoveling out sand and stones from the garden of his home. When he built the home, his father, who had experienced water damage from the 1945 Makurazaki Typhoon that left 3,756 people dead or missing, had told him, "Don't get greedy and get too close to the river." In the recent downpours, the concrete-block wall outside his home and part of his garden were gouged out.

According to the town and other data sources, about 1,800 people live in the Koyaura district. As of July 16, 15 people had been confirmed dead. In Koyaura Park alongside the river, a stone monument records the tragedy of water damage that claimed the lives of about 40 people in 1907. The monument was moved to the park from its previous location next to Koyaura Station on the JR Kure Line 14 years ago, to make it more visible. It did not budge an inch in the latest tragedy, but next to it the roof of a home that had been washed down lay on a lean with its framework exposed.

(Japanese original by Yoshitake Matsuura, Osaka City News Department)

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