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'It's terrible and scary': Central Japan residents shocked by typhoon-fueled flood damage

Police officers and other workers examine the Hoyasu district of the city of Nagano, which was flooded after a dike of the nearby Chikuma River broke, on Oct. 14, 2019. (Mainichi/Kunihiro Iwasaki)

NAGANO -- Residents of a neighborhood in this central Japan city, which was flooded after a dike of the swollen Chikuma River nearby broke as Typhoon Hagibis wreaked havoc, were left speechless after seeing the devastation in the area.

Mayumi Shibata, 68, a local resident, temporarily returned home on Oct. 14, the day after the flood, and recalled the horror she experienced while she stayed in her house during the disaster.

"I can't believe that something like this actually happened," she said.

In Nagano, the amount of rain over a 24-hour period hit a record 134.5 millimeters as the typhoon, this year's 19th, battered the area on the weekend. At 6 p.m. on Oct. 12, the municipal government issued an evacuation advisory to the Hoyasu neighborhood. In response, Shibata's 66-year-old husband Eiichi fled their family home at around 1 a.m. on Oct. 13 and went to a nearby evacuation shelter with his 97-year-old mother. However, Shibata chose to stay at home thinking that their residence would be flooded only below the floor.

"I have a cat, so I thought if I took it to the evacuation shelter, it would cause trouble to other evacuees," she said.

Shibata was unable to sleep that night and noticed the following morning that the first floor of her family home had been flooded by muddy water. She attempted to flee in her car but it was already submerged in water, so she went upstairs instead.

Her tense Line app message exchanges with her husband after that still remain on her phone. They read:

"(Water) is now above the floor." (4:03 a.m. on Oct. 13)

"Hasn't the water receded?" (4:11 a.m.)

"It's reached the staircase." (4:38 a.m.)

"A ladder is on the balcony so flee onto the roof." (4:43 a.m.)

"It's terrible and scary." (5:32 a.m.)

Shibata felt she could not escape after seeing a refrigerator and a shoe shelf drifting in a muddy stream outside her home. She waited in her house and prayed that the water would recede.

At around noon on Oct. 13, she was rescued from the second-floor balcony by a Self-Defense Forces helicopter.

"Next time (when such a disaster occurs), I'll flee immediately," Shibata said.

The Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) estimates that a several-kilometer-square area around Hoyasu was flooded after the Chikuba River dike broke.

Water had mostly receded by the morning of Oct. 14, but puddles about 20 centimeters in diameter remained in some locations and the neighborhood still remains covered with mud.

A Mainichi Shimbun reporter walked in the area and almost got bogged down in the quagmire many times. The outer walls of houses in the neighborhood are stained with mud, showing that they were hit by flooded water up to 2 meters high.

Nobuko Katsurada, 70, who took shelter at an acquaintance's home shortly after the evacuation advisory was issued, was shocked to see the neighborhood after it flooded.

Although her home remained intact, the office of her son who works as a certified labor and social security consultant and several nearby homes had disappeared with only their foundations remaining. Utility poles were leveled to the ground and apple trees with red fruit also disappeared from a nearby orchard.

"Whenever I saw the news of a flood in another region, I thought it was someone else's problem but I realized how serious it could be after experiencing it first hand," said Katsurada.

(Japanese original by Kunihiro Iwasaki, City News Department)

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