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Osaka Pref. long knew of deep spot in river where 3 drowned

People have left flowers near the site where three members of a family died in a river. There is also a note that is believed to have been left by a member of the bereaved family expressing gratitude, in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, on Sept. 13, 2019. (Mainichi/Akihiko Tsuchida)

TAKATSUKI, Osaka -- A report created 13 years ago had noted that there was a deep spot at the site where two siblings and their grandfather drowned in the Akutagawa river here on Sept. 7, it has emerged.

There is a park nearby the site, with water features where young children can splash around and which presupposes that visitors will get in the river, but the prefectural government had not set up any deep water warning signs. Local residents said that there had long been a depression in the river, pointing to the possibility that a dangerous situation may have been left unaddressed by authorities for years.

In the Sept. 7 incident, 73-year-old Kunikiyo Shirotsu, and his grandchildren, 11-year-old Umi Kishishita, and 7-year-old Taiki Kishishita, died. A 9-year-old girl is unconscious and remains in critical condition. There is a half-circle-shaped depression in the river about 10 meters across at its widest point and 2 meters deep.

The Osaka Prefectural Government's Ibaraki civil engineering office that manages the river had said after the incident that it had no knowledge of the depression, but after being questioned by the Mainichi Shimbun, acknowledged the existence of the report.

The report created 13 years ago by a company commissioned by the Osaka Prefectural Government's Ibaraki civil engineering office notes that near the site of the latest incident, there is "a stream pool with a depth of 229 centimeters." (Photo courtesy of the civil engineering office)

In March 2006, the civil engineering office set up an experimental fishway for sweetfish to migrate upstream. It commissioned a construction consulting company to deliberate methods of installing the fishway. A report submitted by the consulting company said that downriver from a weir, where the latest incident occurred, there was "a stream pool with a depth of 229 centimeters," and illustrated where the stream pool was located.

A 77-year-old man who volunteered to help install the fishway at the time, said, "We told prefectural officials that the depression was dangerous, but it stayed even after that." A teacher at an elementary school nearby said, "I knew that there was a deep point in the river. I instructed my students not to go there without adult supervision."

However, a prefectural official told the Mainichi Shimbun, "It is likely that in 2006, officials were aware of the depression. But because riverbeds can change due to rain and other factors, it's unknown whether it remained the same all this time. Whether or not residents requested improvements is old information, so we don't know about it."

At the site of the Sept. 7 incident, a new sign warning of the dangers of the river has been attached under a sign that has long been there about searching for different types of fish, in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, on Sept. 10, 2019. (Mainichi/Akihiko Tsuchida)

Nearby, there is a sign about the various fish, including sweetfish, that live in the river, saying, "Let's search for the fish in the Akutagawa river," and stairs that lead to the water. There are no warnings, however, about deep points in the river. The Osaka Prefectural Government put up a sign reading "Be careful of the river" after the Sept. 7 incident.

In the neighboring city of Ibaraki, Mayumi Oka, 39, a researcher on safety behavioral science at the Osaka University Graduate School, lost her husband in an accident in the Ai River in 2012.

"No one expects there to be this deep a depression in a river at a water-themed park for children," she said. "That there were no signs set up to warn people of the dangers even though they knew about them 13 years ago is the (prefectural) government's failure to act."

Among the bouquets that have been left near the site of the Sept. 7 tragedy lies a message believed to have been left by a member of the bereaved family: "Thanks to everyone, our grandfather and my children are back in my arms. I have been able to hold them and cry. I am filled with gratitude."

(Japanese original by Haruka Ito, Akihiko Tsuchida and Yuma Hori, Osaka City News Department)

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