Riverbank ruptures leave three dead, 22 missing; Sendai urges over 400,000 to evacuate

Kyodo

Torrential rain and flooding in eastern Japan had claimed three lives as of Friday, with 22 missing in Joso, Ibaraki Prefecture, after the east bank of the Kinugawa River ruptured the previous day.

In Miyagi Prefecture, where the weather agency issued a special rain warning in the morning, a 48-year-old woman trapped in a washed away car was confirmed dead, while a 62-year-old man who called for help from another vehicle was declared missing.

The bad weather was caused in part by Typhoon Etau, which plowed across the Tokai region Wednesday before entering the Sea of Japan and fizzling into a depression.

The central government will “extend maximum support to municipalities that are scrambling to secure relief supplies and establish shelters,” disaster management minister Eriko Yamatani said.

The city of Osaki, Miyagi Prefecture, was hit by floods at around 5 a.m. Friday after a bank of the Shibui River failed over a section about 10 meters long, allowing the river to inundate nearby neighborhoods just as in Ibaraki, city officials said.

Around 80 people in the area were stranded but later evacuated by rescue helicopters.

As the storms shifted north, more than 410,000 people in Sendai were advised to evacuate. Rainfall reached record levels in Miyagi early Friday, with total precipitation logged since Sunday swamping the average for the entire month in some areas.

In Ibaraki, the Kinugawa River breached its east bank in Joso just before 1 p.m. Thursday, flooding residential areas and prompting the Self-Defense Forces to conduct airborne rescues from balconies and roofs as residents’ homes threatened to collapse beneath them. It was the first time a riverbank had failed in 66 years. The deluge left an area of roughly 32 sq. km with around 6,500 homes flooded.

Takuya Deshimaru, director of the Meteorological Agency’s forecast division, said the situation in Miyagi was abnormal and the area faced “grave danger.” He urged residents to take safety measures.

The heavy rain warnings for Ibaraki and neighboring Tochigi were lifted Friday morning. In the evening, the weather agency also lifted its warning for Miyagi, saying the rainstorm had finished in the Kanto and Tohoku regions.

The floods left hundreds of people stranded overnight in their homes or office buildings. As of noon, there were about 5,000 evacuees at 32 shelters in Joso and surrounding areas. The only place where people remain stranded is Joso City Hall, which is accommodating about 400 evacuees, city officials said.

In Joso, more than 10,000 households are believed to have suffered flood damage.

The infrastructure ministry has mobilized pump trucks for drainage operations at the Kinugawa River and is also sending experts to the area to assess damage to the riverbank. By nightfall Thursday, more than 400 residents had been rescued by the police, fire department, SDF and the Japan Coast Guard.

Helicopter crews helped to pull people to safety.

The Metropolitan Police Department, local police and the Tokyo Fire Department later joined the rescue effort. The Land, Transport, Infrastructure and Tourism Ministry had been planning to fortify the banks where the breach occurred because they were deemed unlikely to withstand the kind of floods that are expected to occur only onceevery 10 years. The river runs through Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures.

Residents rescued by helicopter recalled the terror they felt as the flood waters climbed.

“There was a scene in front of me which was like the one in the tsunami disaster,” said Jiro Nakayama, 70, referring to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.

Masaji Kanasaki, 72, said the water rose to waist level within 30 minutes. He had been filming it with a video camera, but stopped and joined other family members in waving towels from a balcony to call for help.

“I don’t know what to do now,” he said at a nearby gymnasium, where he was evacuated to. Also in Joso, about 550 people were trapped in a community center and about 100 people were stuck on the roof of a shopping center. Some places designated as evacuation areas were among those that flooded.

The flooding occurred hours after the agency issued severe-weather warnings for Tochigi Prefecture and then Ibaraki Prefecture on Thursday morning. “This is an unusual situation we have not experienced before. We are at a critical phase,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a meeting of ministers.

He urged rescue personnel to prevent the situation from deteriorating.

In Kanuma, Tochigi Prefecture, a 63-year-old woman missing after a landslide was found dead.

As of Thursday evening, the police said six people had suffered serious injuries and 15 others received light wounds in the disaster zone. The torrential rain followed Typhoon Etau, which crossed the central part of the country and headed out over the Sea of Japan on Wednesday before being downgraded to a depression.

The rain also caused a partial collapse of a hotel overlooking the Kinugawa River in the hot springs resort area of Nikko.

The town of Minamiaizu in Fukushima Prefecture suffered flooding and landslides, with about 300 households temporarily cut off.

Rainwater drenching the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant might flow into the Pacific Ocean, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga warned at a press conference. But he added, the radiation level of such rainwater will be “sufficiently below” the legally permitted level.

The severe rain also disrupted rail transport in eastern and northeastern Japan, with East Japan Railway halting services between Fukushima and Shinjo stations on the Yamagata Shinkansen Line through Friday morning.

  • DutchCynic

    Again Japanese citizens pay the price for the parochial character of their country’s construction sector. Completely closed off from the rest of the world, civil engineers and construction companies deliver substandard infrastructure, which they sell unchallenged as ‘world-class’. The construction sector, currently under the tutelage of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Tourism and heavily protected by bureaucratic regulations, should benefit from more competition from abroad and subsequent new ideas on engineering in distaster prone areas.

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