National

After deadly flooding, traumatized Hiroshima wakes to blue skies, starts getting life back in order

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Hiroshima residents awoke Monday morning to sunny skies but a cloudy future following flooding and landslides that left at least 46 people in the prefecture dead.

As the scale of the disaster caused by record downpours began to sink in, emergency workers continued their search and rescue operations. With the return of clear skies and a rise in heat and humidity, Hiroshima officials’ worries turned to getting emergency water and food to over 100,000 households, many located in areas that are currently difficult, if not impossible, to reach by road.

Stricken cities and towns also issued calls to prefectural officials for specific items such as towels and diapers, shovels, portable toilets, futons, plastic wrap, antiseptic tissues and personal hygiene items.

Many schools were also damaged and there are concerns about the welfare of children.

“We’re hearing from education officials in various towns and villages and they are saying that even if the children survived the floods, their parents or guardians are missing and that counselors and care are needed for them. We’re also getting requests for things like new textbooks, as in many cases the old ones were washed away,” said Rie Hirakawa, superintendent of the Hiroshima Prefectural Board of Education secretariat.

Prefectural high schools and special care schools remain closed. Reopening elementary and junior high schools has been left in the hands of local education officials, as each school’s student body tends to come from a concentrated area that may or may not be badly damaged by flooding or mudslides.

In the city of Hiroshima, life at Hiroshima Station and around Peace Park appeared normal at first glance.

Peace Park was open, as were many restaurants and stores, although the number of visitors to the park in particular was small. Convenience stores were running low on some food and drink items as people stocked up on supplies for themselves or for others in disaster-stricken areas.

With many roads closed due to flooding, some clerks were warning customers that their store could soon run low on food and beverages.

Foreign tourists reported different experiences. Kerry Christensen, an American from Idaho, arrived in Japan last week but found that his vacation plans had to be altered.

“We had originally wanted to go to ‘Bunny Island’ (Okunoshima) today, but the trains are out. We’re now wondering whether to go back to Kyoto, where we were earlier, or go somewhere else,” he said.

Other tourists said that getting to Hiroshima had not been that much of a problem.

“We took a bit of a winding road to get here from Iwakuni, but we didn’t have any particular problems,” said Will Williamson, who is from California.

Bullet trains between Shin-Osaka and Hiroshima stations, suspended over the weekend, were operating Monday morning. But many local trains to other cities, towns and villages along the Seto Inland Sea coast or the northern mountain regions, where some of the worst damage has occurred, remained out of service with no predictions as to when they might reopen.

Central and local government officials estimated Monday that roads leading to Kure that are now closed could reopen in a week. Kure was one of the worst-hit areas of Hiroshima Prefecture and the roads serve as a vital lifeline for delivering supplies by sea from Kure to the city of Hiroshima and other parts of the prefecture.

With the annual ceremony to commemorate the Aug. 6, 1945, dropping of the atomic bomb now less than a month away, it is unclear if the city will scale back this year’s event due to the recovery efforts.

Several officials doubted that the ceremony will be canceled but suggested the usual schedule of activities could be altered. The city is expected to make a decision soon on how to carry out the ceremony.