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Removing huge amount of debris a tough challenge in western Japan

Debris is transported to a park designated as a second-stage temporary storage site in the city of Kurashiki in Okayama Prefecture on July 25, 2018. (Mainichi)

OSAKA -- Disaster-hit areas in western Japan are expected to face a lengthy struggle to remove debris from recent flooding and landslides, as the large amount of waste greatly exceeds the disposal capacity of the municipal governments concerned.

The Environment Ministry has yet to fully assess the issue as debris lies scattered over roads, schools and parks in numerous areas. The ministry is considering disposing the waste over wide areas, similar to measures taken after the Kumamoto Earthquake in April 2016, where it took two years to process the debris in other prefectures.

In the heavily hit Mabicho district of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, around 12 square kilometers, or 27 percent, of the area was flooded. Mud-covered debris, such as furniture, electronic and household goods and raw garbage, was piled up on empty land lots and along roads. The amount of waste is expected to total around 70,000 to 100,000 tons. Commenting on the situation, Mayor Kaori Ito said, "It can be compared to a year's worth of household trash from all over the city."

Around 70 garbage trucks from Kurashiki and other municipalities, and around 150 Self-Defense Force dump trucks and heavy machines carried waste piled up on the side of major roads to six places in the district appointed as first-stage temporary debris storage sites. Four of these sites are school playgrounds. The Kurashiki Municipal Government and the Environment Ministry designated new areas in the city, such as parks, as second-stage temporary storage sites, but are yet to decide on the timing to move all the waste.

The removal of debris was also a major issue following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Following that disaster, the Environment Ministry called on all municipal governments across Japan to compile guidelines for disaster waste disposal, including information on the expected amount of debris and temporary storage sites. However, as of the end of March 2017, only 24 percent of municipal governments had drawn up such plans.

Around 31 million tons of debris from the Great East Japan Earthquake was processed in Tokyo, Osaka Prefecture and other areas over three years, and around 3 million tons of waste from the Kumamoto Earthquake was processed with the help of other prefectures over two years. Debris from the recent disaster in western Japan is expected to total several million tons.

(Japanese original by Tomo Yamaguchi, Osaka City News Department)

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