National

First anniversary of fatal Izu-Oshima mudslides marked

Kyodo

Officials and residents of an island south of Tokyo gathered Thursday to mourn the victims of mud slides that left 39 residents dead and missing a year ago.

Typhoon Wipha hit Izu-Oshima Island on Oct. 16, 2013, triggering flash floods that ripped through town suburbs. Authorities afterward faced heavy criticism for failing to issue evacuation warnings.

On the disaster’s first anniversary, a moment of silence was held for those lost. They pledged to rebuild the areas and communities damaged.

“It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year,” said one man, who said he came to pray for a lost friend.

Reconstruction has been slow so far, with bare rock still visible where a deluge of water, mud and rock swept away trees and smashed into houses below. Some 82 residents are still in temporary accommodation.

In February, the town of Oshima established a disaster prevention panel. The committee has met regularly with residents since April and last month drafted a 10-year reconstruction plan.

The proposals include a plan for how to use the land and a project to build 34 housing facilities by fiscal 2016 in the Motomachi district, which was the most severely damaged.

The land use plan foresees the district being divided into four zones, which will determine where housing and other facilities should be built. The details have yet to be decided.

The municipality faced strong criticism for failing to issue an evacuation advisory even though the Meteorological Agency had warned of heavy rain and mudslides for both the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the island itself, which falls within Tokyo’s administration.

Soon after the disaster, the metropolitan government began working on measures such as new landslide control barriers for placement near the creeks that flooded.

In December, the town also established new guidelines on when to issue evacuation advisories.

But this has not salved the grief felt by families and neighbors who suffered loss that day.

Among those who offered prayers and flowers on Thursday was Naoki Satomi, 49, who lost his mother, elder sister and brother-in-law when the family home was swept away.

“I asked them to forgive (my helplessness) as this is all I can do,” Satomi said at the site of the house, where only the ceramic tiles of its entrance porch remain.

Some people laid flowers on the stands set up by residents.

“Every time I visit this place, my heart bleeds,” said Natsumi Ogawa, 64, who came to remember a couple with whom she had worked. “The land has been cleared now, which makes me realize that the time has passed.”