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The Yamaguchi District Court ordered the government and other defendants Monday to pay some 58.5 million yen in damages to relatives of a man and woman who drowned in a river in 1997 after water was released from dams upstream.

The two victims — an 84-year-old man and a 57-year-old woman — had been hunting for freshwater mussels along the lower reaches of the Kiya River in Shimonoseki on July 26, 1997.

An employee in charge of a dam upstream manually opened three floodgates in preparation for an approaching typhoon, without confirming the safety of people who might be near the river downstream. The two drowned in the sudden water rise.

Relatives of the victims filed an 82 million yen damages suit against the national government, Yamaguchi Prefecture, the local entity in charge of managing the dam and its head, as well as the employee in charge of the floodgates at the time.

On Monday, presiding Judge Sho Kamisaka of the court’s Shimonoseki branch ordered all the defendants to pay damages.

In December that year, the former employee was charged with professional negligence resulting in death and was subsequently fined.

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