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2014年8月23日 (土)

(社説)広島土砂災害 検証究めて命を守れ

August 22, 2014
EDITORIAL: Hiroshima landslides show need to review disaster response plans
(社説)広島土砂災害 検証究めて命を守れ

Massive landslides caused by heavy rainfall engulfed wide areas in northern parts of Hiroshima, leaving dozens of people dead or missing.

The disaster is reminiscent of the mudslides that killed 32 people in Hiroshima Prefecture 15 years ago and prompted the central government to enact the landslide disaster prevention law.

It is deeply deplorable that lessons learned from the tragedy in 1999 have not been effectively applied.

Much of the areas where landslides occurred this time have not been designated as special caution areas under the law. The Hiroshima municipal government advised evacuations only after the disaster started unfolding. A secondary landslide occurred in a disaster-hit area, killing a firefighter who was engaged in rescue work.

An exhaustive investigation should be carried out to learn why the landslides caused so many casualties and so much damage.

It was in the hours before dawn on Aug. 20 that cumulonimbus clouds, or dense towering vertical clouds associated with thunderstorms and heavy precipitation, formed quickly, triggering torrential rainfall exceeding 100 mm per hour.

It should be noted that cumulative rainfall is a crucial factor for mudslide disasters. In Hiroshima, total precipitation since early August had been more than three times greater than average. The local meteorological observatory issued a mudslide warning before the rainfall peaked.

In addition, the nature of the soil in Hiroshima is known to be unstable and vulnerable to mudslides.

With many residential areas located close to the foothills, Hiroshima Prefecture has more high-risk areas for landslides than any other prefecture.

A senior official of the Hiroshima municipal government said there were faint expectations that the rainfall would soon taper off. But the government was apparently too optimistic.

Every year, around 1,000 landslide disasters take place in Japan. In October 2013, huge mudflows caused by a typhoon claimed 39 lives on Izu-Oshima island off Tokyo.

There have been signs that torrential rain occurs more frequently than in the past. Experts suspect that global warming is causing the trend.

The risk of natural disasters is rising. It is clearly necessary to enhance systems to protect the lives of people during these calamities.

In areas struck by landslides in Hiroshima, many people have said they were not aware of the danger. Local governments have created and published hazard maps showing levels of natural hazards for areas. But people tend to think their areas are safe.

More meticulous and effective efforts should be made to make local residents aware of the risks they are facing.

In the cases of Izu-Oshima and Hiroshima, the rain intensified late at night, causing delays in the responses by the local governments.

Needless to say, natural disasters can occur at any time, day or night. Swift actions based on weather forecasts must be made when there is the possibility of a disaster.

Kumamoto Prefecture in the last fiscal year launched a new disaster response program focused on “preventive evacuations,” which can be instructive for other local governments.

The prefectural government developed the program after heavy downpours in the early morning hours caused casualties in July 2012.

Under the program, when heavy nighttime rainfall is expected, local governments set up evacuation sites in the evening and call for voluntary evacuations.

When Typhoon No. 8 struck Japan in July, some 5,000 people in Kumamoto Prefecture actually took shelter under the program. Even if an evacuation later turns out to have been unnecessary, such actions are meaningful because they make people more conscious of the risks.

To boost our own safety during natural disasters, we should do what we can during normal times.

We can, for example, learn more about the geographical and geological features of the area where we live, such as the existence of a nearby hill and a river. And we can think about what we should do during torrential rain.

Such self-help efforts by individuals do a lot to reduce casualties from actual disasters.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 22


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