National

Ehime residents recount horrific landslide death of beloved friend and neighbor

Kyodo

Residents in Uwajima, Ehime Prefecture, are mourning the loss of a well-loved member of their community this week, in the wake of downpours and flooding that killed at least 200 across western Japan.

Hidefumi Izumi, 64, was known for his reliability and dedicated service to the local community. He loved the ocean and fish — friends and acquaintances say he cleaned the nearby beach every day. Izumi was checking on his pet carp in the pond in his garden Saturday morning when a violent landslide smashed into the neighborhood, inundating homes with mud and debris and even pushing some of them into the sea.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said one of his neighbors, a woman in her 60s, her voice trembling. She had been in the residential area when it was struck by the sudden deluge of sediment and rock, which she said sounded like an explosion. Then she heard Izumi’s daughter frantically calling his name.

Sadafumi Taniguchi, a 64-year-old former volunteer firefighter and one of Izumi’s elementary school classmates, began searching for his lifelong friend the same day.

Izumi had worked at the Uwajima city office part time, after retiring from his previous full-time role there. He had been recognized among peers for his competence since his school days, and every two to three years helped to organize class reunions. The group had been set to meet again in 2020.

The damp and heavy mud made it hard to dig through the wreckage of the landslide with shovels, so Taniguchi was forced to operate heavy equipment to continue the search. On Monday morning, after removing concrete blocks at the entrance of Izumi’s house, he found a human head. Then, having carefully removed more of the mud and sand, rescuers pulled out a body, which was later confirmed to be that of Izumi.

“He was an earnest man,” said a woman from the neighborhood, with tears in her eyes. “How come such a good person died in this way?”

“He was very kind,” Taniguchi said, recounting how Izumi had visited him just a few days before his death to give him some fish he had caught. Taniguchi gave him some sea cucumbers in return.

Last week’s devastating rains across western Japan caused numerous landslides and widespread flooding. Thousands were forced to evacuate to shelters, and dozens remain unaccounted for.