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One year on, deaths linked to western Japan torrential rain stand at 53, could rise

Residents clean up a road following flooding in Aki Ward in the city of Hiroshima in this July 10, 2018 file photo. (Mainichi)

One year after torrential rain struck western Japan, claiming many lives, data compiled by the Mainichi Shimbun has shown that the number of deaths related to but not directly caused by the disaster stood at 53 as of July 4 this year.

The Mainichi Shimbun tallied the number of related deaths based on interviews with local governments of the disaster-hit areas. All 53 of these victims were residents of Hiroshima, Okayama and Ehime prefectures -- the areas most affected by the July 6, 2018 downpours and ensuing flooding and landslides. This number is expected to increase, as at least 24 deaths are still under review.

In a related development, the Mainichi Shimbun found that up to 80% of local bodies that have or are planning to set up investigative committees or panels have not informed victims about a system offering condolence money for deaths related to natural disasters. An expert has pointed out that there may be cases in which bereaved families don't know about the system, and that this may have led to victims not being counted among disaster-related deaths.

As opposed to deaths directly caused by the disaster, such as drowning due to flooding, indirect disaster-related deaths include stress due to evacuation and illnesses that develop amid the recovery process. Such deaths gained prominence after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake that devastated the western Japan city of Kobe and surrounding areas.

Bereaved families can apply with investigative panels set up by municipal governments to determine whether a death is causally related to the disaster. If recognized as such, condolence money of 2.5 to 5 million yen is offered to the family, just like cases in which disasters are confirmed to be the direct cause of death.

As of the end of March 2019, a total of 3,723 deaths had been confirmed as being related to the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. Another 919 deaths within the western Japan prefecture of Hyogo were deemed to be related to the Great Hanshin Earthquake, and 218 were judged as being related to the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake.

By prefecture, 29 deaths in Hiroshima, 18 in Okayama and six in Ehime were recognized as being related to the 2018 torrential rains, according to 20 cities and towns of the three prefectures that have or are planning to set up investigative commissions.

By municipality, the city of Kurashiki in Okayama confirmed the most related deaths, at 10 residents, followed by nine in the city of Mihara and seven in Higashihiroshima, both in Hiroshima Prefecture. By age, one victim was in their 40s, two in their 50s, five in their 60s, 13 in their 70s, 13 in their 80s, and 10 in their 90s. The ages of nine other victims have not been disclosed. The statistics indicate that nearly 70% of the disaster-related deaths were of people in their 70s or above.

At least half of the victims were living at home. Prominent were the deaths of people who fell ill while working to recover from the disaster in extreme summer heat.

A total of eight cases filed by bereaved families were not recognized as deaths related to the disaster.

However, as of June 10, of the 20 cities and towns that have or are planning to set up investigative commissions, only the cities of Kurashiki and Soja in Okayama, and the cities of Matsuyama and Uwajima in Ehime had noted that coverage for bereaved families of people killed by the disaster included related deaths as well. This information was published on their on their official websites, PR magazines and other such mediums.

This situation stands in contrast to that following the Kumamoto Earthquake, in which many municipalities released information on such systems.

While the cities of Seiyo in Ehime Prefecture and Mihara in Hiroshima Prefecture provided explanations on application procedures to individual surviving families, other municipalities only did so when asked. This indicates understanding regarding disaster-related deaths is not widespread among government bodies. An official with the city of Fuchu in Hiroshima even stated, "We didn't expect that there would be any disaster-related deaths."

According to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, 275 residents in total died in the 2018 rain disaster, including a 222 people in 14 prefectures who perished as a direct result. Eight people in Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures are still missing.

(Japanese original by Motohiro Inoue, Hanshin Bureau)

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