NIIGATA – Residents of Niigata Prefecture areas hit by heavy flooding last week have started questioning the disaster management efforts of local municipalities.
The worst-hit areas were the city of Sanjo and the town of Nakanoshima, where embankments of nearby rivers gave way to rapidly rising waters that were fed by heavy rain.
A total of 15 people have died in the disaster.
On Monday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited the devastated areas.
In Sanjo, home to many small and medium-size companies, a knife manufacturer told him: “I’m thinking of folding the company. But it will mean this city of craftsmen will disappear with the flood.”
A tearful woman in Nakanoshima said, “I wish the authorities had blown the (warning) whistle earlier.”
Meanwhile, Koizumi described the situation as being “worse than I imagined after watching TV.”
He indicated readiness to undertake reconstruction efforts in cooperation with local authorities.
Sanjo municipal officials said the city first issued an evacuation advisory at 10:10 a.m. on July 13. By 11:40, it had ordered 10,515 households to evacuate, notifying residents through the use of vehicles equipped with loudspeakers and through the leaders of neighborhood associations.
But a 63-year-old woman whose house was flooded when the floods came a little after 1 p.m. said she had received no warning whatsoever.
“I felt as though I’d been abandoned,” she complained.
Meanwhile, in Nakanoshima, the waters of the Kariyata River exceeded warning levels around 10:30 a.m.
While the prefecture told the town at noon that it would release water from the Kariyata Dam upstream at 1 p.m., evacuation advisories were not issued until 12:40 p.m., just 10 minutes before the embankments collapsed.
Although vehicles fitted with loudspeakers had been calling on residents to evacuate before this time, many areas had already been flooded, leaving some 260 people stranded.
A 60-year-old woman who was left stranded on the second floor of her home with her husband overnight said the town could have at least rang a warning siren in relation to the dam.
“If we had had an hour, we wouldn’t have been left stranded,” she said.
Sanjo Mayor Kazuo Takahashi said the city did all it could. “But it is just impossible to warn all 80,000 citizens in a timely way.”
Yasuo Sasaki, deputy mayor of Nakanoshima, said it could not be denied that countermeasures had come too late. Sasaki cited the rapidity with which the waters had risen as one reason for the tardy response.
Two remain missing
FUKUI (Kyodo) Two people remained unaccounted for Monday after heavy rain swept through northern Fukui Prefecture over the weekend, local officials said.
Reports Monday morning of a third missing person were corrected later in the day after Kazutaka Ohashi, 41, of Fukui was confirmed to be at a local hospital with a broken leg.
The rain and ensuing floods have already claimed three lives.
Rescue workers had added Ohashi to the list of missing because his whereabouts could not be confirmed after he was seen in front of his home around 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
Reconstruction work began in earnest Monday morning in many of the towns and cities affected by the rain. The prefectural government designated four municipalities, including Fukui, as areas to be covered under the Disaster Relief Law.
Six anglers rescued
NIIGATA (Kyodo) Six anglers who went missing during a fishing trip to the Kuromata River in Niigata Prefecture last week were rescued Monday morning, local rescue officials said.
The men were identified as Takayuki Kaseda, 61, and four others from Honjo, Saitama Prefecture, along with 54-year-old Masaharu Sakaki of Fujioka, Gunma Prefecture.
Their families filed a missing persons report with Niigata police late Sunday afternoon, with the six having failed to return home the previous day as planned.