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JAF receives over 7,000 requests to recover vehicles hit by landslides, floods

Cars remain buried in soil at a parking lot in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, on July 17, 2018. (Mainichi)

The Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) has been inundated with over 7,000 requests to recover vehicles buried in landslides or submerged in muddy water in three western Japan prefectures hit hardest by torrential rains.

The combined figures in Hiroshima, Okayama and Ehime prefectures are over twice the numbers in normal periods. Since these vehicles stranded in disaster-ravaged areas hinder relief and recovery work, JAF has mobilized workers and gathered tow trucks from all over Japan in a desperate effort to remove the vehicles.

Many vehicles were abandoned in various locations of the Mabicho district of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, where about 4,600 homes, more than half of all houses there, were flooded after tributaries of the Takahashi River overflowed following the torrential rains.

On July 13, a JAF tow truck removed two cars tangled up with tree branches and grass from the garage of the home of Hiromichi Ihara, 65, a former schoolteacher, in Mabicho. His home had been submerged up to its second floor.

"People around me told me that cars submerged in water could be dangerous, so I wanted to have them removed as early as possible," a relieved Ihara said.

JAF began to receive requests to remove submerged cars after the Japan Meteorological Agency issued emergency warnings for heavy rain in eight prefectures including Hiroshima and Okayama on July 6, officials said. In particular, the organization has received many such requests from Hiroshima, Okayama and Ehime prefectures, hit hard by landslides and floods triggered by the torrential rains. About 30 percent of the requests concerned vehicles submerged in floodwater.

Over an 11-day period up to July 16, the number of requests filed with the JAF to remove vehicles buried in landslides or submerged in floodwater in the three hardest-hit prefectures totaled 7,020 -- some 3,664 in Hiroshima, 2,323 in Okayama and 1,033 in Ehime. The federation usually receives a total of around 300 requests to remove troubled vehicles in these prefectures a day.

In some cases, police and fire stations ask JAF to tow stranded cars away because these vehicles block the passage of heavy machinery and other vehicles involved in disaster relief operations.

However, there are many areas in Hiroshima and Okayama prefectures that remain inaccessible, and JAF has been unable to respond to about 120 requests.

JAF expects it will continue to receive such requests for the time being. "Many victims apparently place priority on evacuation and cleaning up their homes while putting the removal of their vehicles on the back-burner. Many cars remain stranded, so we'll continue to receive such requests," a JAF official said.

Nobuya Itano, 73, a resident of Mabicho, had his expensive camping vehicle, which he bought after retiring, washed several hundred meters away by floods. He had previously driven the vehicle through various parts of the country with his wife.

There is no choice but to use heavy machinery to remove the car that had been swept away to a rice paddy in his neighborhood.

"I lost everything to the torrential rains ... my home and my car," Itano said as he shed tears.

The removal of submerged cars needs special care. JAF advises the owners of such vehicles not to start the engines. Noting that hybrid cars and electric vehicles carry large batteries, JAF warns that people can suffer electric shocks just by touching such vehicles' bodies.

Sumio Owaki, former professor of automotive engineering at Nakanihon Automotive College, said, "In such cases, car owners are urged to contact repair shops quickly."

(Japanese original by Koji Endo and Akihiko Tsuchida, Osaka City News Department)

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