Kumamoto, remembering quake aid, returns favor by helping flood areas

JIJI

Kumamoto Prefectural Government officials are supporting disaster relief activities in downpour-hit western prefectures to return the favor they received following powerful earthquakes in 2016.

Kumamoto Prefecture and nine local governments have sent more than 160 personnel to help out in Hiroshima Prefecture and elsewhere, capitalizing on their experience from the 2016 disaster.

Starting July 14, seven officials with know-how in disaster-related operations were dispatched from Kumamoto to Hiroshima and neighboring Okayama Prefecture, both hit by deadly landslides and floods brought on by the torrential rain early this month.

The Kumamoto team presented a past timetable to the Hiroshima and Okayama prefectural disaster response headquarters showing when evacuee shelters were opened and when certifications for afflicted residents were issued after the 2016 quakes.

The table was used to explain operations likely to eventually become necessary, according to Takuya Kurose, 47, leader of the seven-member team.

Kumamoto officials also recommended tapping nonprofit organizations with expert knowledge on controlling humidity and securing privacy in shelters.

They provided a list of questions and answers regarding certifications and support funds for disaster victims that was created in 2016 following inquiries from quake-hit Kumamoto municipalities.

“We hope to make use of our experience to return the favor we received following the earthquakes,” said Kurose, who also heads the Kumamoto Prefectural Government’s disaster prevention planning office.

The Kumamoto town of Ozu sent six officials, including Hisaki Shido, 35, to the town of Kaita in Hiroshima.

Shido has bitter memories of the workload that piled up just after the quakes and the difficulty of setting the right priorities for where to start.

He advised Kaita officials, busy with shelter management and transportation issues, to ensure waste is sorted properly because otherwise disposal costs will swell.

“Appropriate responses right after a disaster will make it easier to start smooth operations helping evacuees afterward,” Shido said.

From July 8, the city of Kumamoto sent personnel to help out in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, and Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture.

Kure received 16 officials and three water trucks.

In the aftermath of the 2016 quakes, many evacuees brought plastic bottles to get water from such vehicles, but the taps were too big. Learning from that experience, the Kumamoto Municipal Government fitted the trucks with smaller taps to make it easier to fill plastic bottles.

The water supply operations were “smooth thanks to our experience from the quakes,” said Yasuhiko Mimura, 56, who led the city’s water supply team.

One day, he found a letter under a windshield wiper of a water truck that said: “I am shedding tears of gratitude. From a Kure citizen.”

“It blew away my fatigue,” said Mimura, who proudly brought the letter back to Kumamoto.