MIHARA, HIROSHIMA PREF. – Masanori Hiramoto stood before his traditional home in Mihara, Hiroshima Prefecture, speechless at the destruction caused by record rains that have killed scores of people.
“I have lived here all my life. I have never seen anything like this,” he said, standing in shock before the house in which he and his wife raised their three daughters, all now adults.
Hiramoto was one of around 60 evacuees from Mihara’s Hongo district who ventured back to their homes Sunday, two days after fleeing when authorities issued evacuation orders.
More than 2 million people across parts of central and western Japan have been issued similar orders, but they are not mandatory and many of those who defied the instructions found themselves caught up in flash floods and landslides.
As Hiramoto inspected his ravaged home, it became clear that his decision to evacuate was the right one.
Most houses in this small rice-farming community stand on elevated ground above rice fields, but surging water swallowed fields and homes alike, including Hiramoto’s.
The floodwaters were so powerful that they stripped layers from the walls, leaving the ground floor virtually unrecognizable.
Hiramoto didn’t bother to observe the Japanese custom of removing his shoes before entering his home, stepping over a muddle of debris piled outside the front door straight onto flooring caked in mud.
“I’m looking at losses worth ¥10 million,” he said, still dressed in the mud-covered shorts he was wearing when he evacuated Friday night. “I don’t even know where to start cleaning. I don’t know what is where.”
The 68-year-old farmer had never evacuated his home before, but when a special alert came on the television Friday night as he watched baseball, he and his wife decided to leave.
They headed out of the picturesque Hongo district and drove up to the local shelter in the mountains that surround it, a modest building with just two rooms, a kitchen and some toilets.
They found nearly 60 people already there, and decided to take cover in a nearby tunnel. But they quickly abandoned that plan after mud began to flood into it.
The couple spent Friday night at a local highway rest stop. With no running water or electricity at their home, they were planning to head back to the shelter Sunday night.
On the ground floor of their formerly well-decorated home, the powerful floodwaters had ripped away the outer layer of the walls, exposing the elaborate bamboo mesh inside.
Photo albums and other family possessions were jumbled together with debris on the floor.
Inside the soiled rooms, the fridge had toppled over, and the damage on the walls showed the water had risen well above head height.
His heavy farm equipment, including a tractor, harvester and an industrial rice dryer, had also been damaged, and Hiramoto couldn’t bring himself to see whether they would even start.
He surveyed the scene, looking dazed and unsure where to start.
“I might start cleaning when the weather clears. But I need water,” he said. “There is no running water. Without water, I cannot clear mud from my house.”