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Preparation tips for volunteers helping with post-Typhoon Hagibis cleanup

The Mainichi Shimbun reporter shovels mud from the front steps of a house in the Hoyasu district in the city of Nagano on Oct. 16, 2019. (Mainichi)

NAGANO -- A Mainichi Shimbun reporter based in this central Japan city hit hard by Typhoon Hagibis volunteered to help with cleanup efforts in an area flooded by heavy rain. Below are some of the tips the reporter offers to reduce risks of injuries or infection while helping with the flooding cleanup.

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I entered the Hoyasu district of Nagano, one of the nine municipalities in Nagano Prefecture that were accepting volunteer workers for cleanup efforts, on Oct. 15 and helped a local resident for two days to remove mud from his home.

Following guidelines for volunteer workers in the Nagano Prefecture city of Iiyama, I brought a shovel, gloves, facemasks, goggles, head covers as well as my own lunch and beverages. I wore a long-sleeved shirt, long jogging pants and rain boots. After I parked my car, I walked to the house where I was assigned to help. I carefully chose to step on the parts of a muddy street where I could see footprints and the concrete beneath the mud, but the mud got deeper as I took a narrower street. I debated going back to where I came from, but the house I was supposed to assist was right around the corner. When I walked on the side of the street to avoid the car parked there, I felt like I stepped through the ground. It was only a moment after I thought to myself, "WOW," I found that I had fallen in a ditch and was stuck there below the knees. With help from a passerby, I got myself out.

After I arrived at the house, I put my backpack in a large trash bag to protect it from mud and placed it on the side. After a man in his 80s told me details about the house, I began the cleanup. The place was his parents' home, but no one currently lived there. The man, who now lives in Tokyo, said he spends a few nights a month at the house. The tatami mats on the first floor of this two-story house were displaced and furniture had fallen over. To make space for the furniture to be moved outside, I scraped mud toward the corner of the front yard and also carried mud to a field to make space in a private road so cars could pass.

With anxiety mounting, some people want to vent their frustrations. I chatted with the man about meal and bathroom situations as the blackout continued while I continued to remove the mud. "Did you take photos of your house? You'll need them when applying for a certificate to prove the damage to the residence," I said to the man.

After the day's work was done, I wiped the mud-covered shovel and rain boots with alcohol wipes and threw them in a bucket and plastic bags. While I needed to refrain from using as much water as possible in Nagano after the wastewater facility treatment center halted its operation, I washed my hands thoroughly to prevent any kind of infection.

What I learned the hard way after the cleanup work was not to walk in places where you don't know how deep the mud is or not to pass along streets where the floodwater has not receded. After the mud dries out, the air becomes dusty, which means facemasks and protective goggles will become more necessary if you're helping with the cleanup. As you will need to touch mud and water, thick rubber gloves might be more suited than cotton work gloves. Plastic bags and alcohol wipes came in handy as they don't take up much space and can be used for anything, so they are recommended to bring even if the municipality doesn't require you to have them.

Several people including his family members worked on the man's house and the place looked almost mud-free in the yard, but more work needed to be done inside the building. "It will take some time before the place gets back to its previous condition," the man said.

Each municipality has different requirements and prerequisites for those who want to volunteer. As some local governments only accept local residents as volunteer workers, those who wish to lend a hand need to check what they should prepare at local social welfare councils' websites and other sources before joining the cleanup work.

(Japanese original by Natsumi Hara, Nagano Bureau)

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