HIROSHIMA – The death toll from mudslides in the city of Hiroshima jumped to 71 on Wednesday, with at least 15 people still missing.
Classes resumed at one of the elementary schools in Hiroshima’s Asaminami Ward — the area hit hardest by the mudslides that first occurred a week ago — while evacuees remained housed in its gymnasium.
Students at Asaminami’s Yamamoto Elementary School, which 11-year-old mudslide victim Haruto Hirano attended, returned from summer vacation, and together offered a silent prayer for Hirano. The school was the first to resume classes in the wake of the disaster.
Nearly 1,000 people out of about 1,300 evacuees are sheltered in nine elementary schools in the city’s Asaminami and Asakita wards, with some schools considering delaying the start of classes.
Hiroshima prefectural and municipal governments had decided to provide 157 public housing units for evacuees free of charge. But they were forced to hold a lottery on Wednesday after 284 households applied. Local governments are also preparing to build temporary housing for those who lost their homes.
Searches involving some 3,300 rescue workers, including local firefighters, and police and Self-Defense Forces personnel, continued in affected areas.
The operations were occasionally interrupted owing to rain and the possibility of further mudslides.
Most of the victims were found in the Yagi and Midorii districts of Asaminami Ward. More than 40 people were killed in the Yagi district and over 10 in the Midorii district. All the missing people are residents in the two districts.
Speaking at a news conference, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui acknowledged for the first time a delay in releasing evacuation advisories for the disaster, which began early on the morning of Aug. 20.
“If advisories had been issued earlier, the damage could have been reduced,” he said. “We hesitated because we made decisions using our existing manuals.” The manuals are meant for disasters that happen during daytime and are not for events occurring at night, according to the mayor.
The city government’s disaster management center has made public the list of people still unaccounted for to facilitate work to establish their whereabouts.
The city has also established a special consultation desk to help residents repair damaged homes while preparing for the construction of temporary homes for evacuees.
An analysis of satellite images and other data show that one of the mudslides traveled at a maximum speed of 144 kph, much faster than the normal speed of 20-40 kph, Yuzo Suga, professor at the Hiroshima Institute of Technology, said.
The mudslide that hit the Yagi district started at an elevation of 261 meters. It reached a residential area 590 meters away in less than a minute, said Suga, who is conducting an on-site survey in the affected areas.