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Editorial: Why wasn't an evacuation order issued before mudslide in central Japan city?

Many homes were destroyed and multiple casualties were reported as a result of a large mudslide in the central Japan city of Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, on July 3.

    There are residents whose whereabouts remain unknown, and police, firefighters and Self-Defense Force personnel are continuing search and rescue operations. We would like them to pour all of their efforts into rescuing people as soon as possible. Meanwhile, continued vigilance toward further mudslides is crucial where the recent mudslide occurred and surrounding areas, as well as other parts that have seen heavy rains.

    As a result of a seasonal rain front, the amount of rainfall in the 48 hours leading up to the afternoon of July 3 at an observation point close to where the mudslide occurred far exceeded the amount of rainfall for the entire month of July in a standard year.

    At the time, a landslide alert, the second strongest warning on Japan's 5-level warning system, had been issued in Shizuoka Prefecture. But the Atami Municipal Government had only gone as far as to issue an evacuation order for elderly people -- who take more time to evacuate than younger adults -- and had not issued an evacuation order for other residents.

    It was only after the mudslide that the warning was switched to an alert urging all people to protect their lives at all costs.

    In Atami, there had not been concentrated downpours, but rather, strong rains had been beating down for a long period of time. That may have made it difficult to determine the timing at which the evacuation order should be issued for all residents.

    But the area where the disaster occurred was surrounded by brooks and streams that were at risk of landslides, and is designated a mudslide caution zone. The soil in all of Atami, including the site of the disaster, is very vulnerable to mudslides, since it is made from volcanic ejecta accumulated on lava.

    Considering the area was a high-risk place, shouldn't information that strongly urged residents to evacuate have been issued? An investigation into this is necessary.

    This year, evacuation advisories were abolished, and evacuation orders have come to be issued at the same time as evacuation advisories were issued in the past. It was a move made in response to residents who said they had trouble understanding the difference between evacuation advisories and evacuation orders.

    However, if there is an increase in cases in which evacuation orders are issued, there are bound to be more cases in which not much damage actually occurs despite resident evacuations. Because of this, there had been concerns that local governments would become disinclined to issue evacuation orders. Had that been the case this time?

    The point of revamping the evacuation order system was to prevent residents from being late to evacuate. Local governments cannot afford to hesitate issuing evacuation orders.

    We have seen major torrential rain disasters toward the end of the rainy season in recent years. Both the national and local governments must respond to this reality in a way that puts protecting the lives of people first.

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