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Large number of Typhoon Hagibis victims died at home, highlighting evacuation delay

People carry things that could still be used out of a home damaged by Typhoon Hagibis, in the Hoyasu district of the city of Nagano, Nagano Prefecture, in central Japan on the afternoon of Oct. 17, 2019. (Mainichi)

A large proportion of people who died when Typhoon Hagibis lashed Japan perished in their homes after being hit by landslides or flooding, while many others died in vehicles, analysis has shown.

A total of 77 people died when the typhoon, this year's 19th, hit Japan. The conditions of 64 of these victims at the time of their deaths are known, and the Mainichi Shimbun analyzed the fatalities.

Twenty-seven of the 64 victims whose conditions are known, or over 40%, died when their homes were hit by flooding or landslides, while 17, or around 27%, died while traveling in vehicles.

According to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, as of 1 p.m. on Oct. 13, up to around 2.1 million people in nine prefectures including Tokyo had been subject to evacuation orders. The high number of fatalities of people at home and in moving vehicles underscores the importance of evacuating before a typhoon arrives.

The Mainichi Shimbun analyzed data based on information obtained from local bodies and police. It found that 17 of the 27 people who died in their homes perished because of flooding, while the remaining 10 died after their homes were hit by landslides. Twenty-three of the 27 victims were aged 60 or older.

In the Fukushima Prefecture city of Iwaki, in northeastern Japan, five people between the ages of 86 and 100 drowned in their homes. One of the victims was 86-year-old Osamu Sekine. He was in his single-story home about 300 meters away from a river whose embankment gave way due to the huge amount of rain brought by the typhoon. Sekine had weak legs, and as muddy water surged into his home, his wife struggled to lift him onto a bed, but the water level rose and he drowned in front of her.

A total of four people died in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Motomiya due to flooding of their homes, as did two in the town of Marumori in neighboring Miyagi Prefecture. These were both areas where river embankments collapsed.

The 17 people who died in moving vehicles included two elementary school students, and five people aged between their 30s and 50s -- representing a relatively young age bracket. One family of four was swept away in water from the Kushi River in the Kanagawa Prefecture city of Sagamihara, south of Tokyo. In the Miyagi Prefecture town of Zao, a 61-year-old man was found dead in a car that plunged into a river. He is believed to have drowned.

Motoyuki Ushiyama, a professor of disaster information studies at the Center for Integrated Research and Education of Natural Hazards at Shizuoka University, commented, "Cars can get swept away when just a small amount of water gets inside, or the outside water pressure may prevent people from opening the doors. The danger of venturing out (in a vehicle) at the time of a disaster isn't any different from walking."

The bodies of 20 people were found outdoors. Of these, 18 people were found near rivers that had flooded, in riverbeds, in waterways, and on bridges.

Near a river in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Koriyama, the body of a 36-year-old woman and her 7-year-old son were found. The boy's 10-year-old brother remains missing. Their car was found, and there appears to be a possibility they were thrown out of the vehicle.

Of another 13 reported deaths, seven bodies were found after a Panamanian cargo ship sank off the coast of the Kanagawa Prefecture city of Kawasaki. The remaining six victims, whose conditions at the time of their deaths are not known, were from Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures, which were hit particularly hard by the typhoon.

Regarding delays among many elderly people in evacuating, Shigeo Tatsuki, a professor in the Faculty of Social Studies at Doshisha University whose areas of research include safety system science and natural disaster science, pointed out, "Unless a person has experienced a disaster in the past or received disaster prevention education, the hurdle for them to actually evacuate after a warning is issued is high."

(Japanese original by Haruna Okuyama, Asako Takeuhi, and Yujiro Futamura, City News Department)

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