Indonesian interns unable to understand Japanese evacuation alert narrowly escaped death in Hiroshima

Kyodo

Four Indonesian interns have said they didn’t evacuate their dormitory during the rain disaster last month because the Hiroshima Municipal Government’s emergency smartphone alert was in Japanese.

One of the four later became trapped in the facility in Asakita Ward when a landslide caused it to collapse in the early hours of July 7.

The incident highlights the inability of the central and local governments to disseminate critical information to foreign residents and visitors during emergencies.

Technical interns Hery Saf Budiyanto, 25, Alif Hidayat, 23, and their two colleagues finished work at around 5 p.m. on July 6, and returned to their company dorm as the rain was getting heavier. At around 8 p.m., their smartphones made “a sound I had never heard before, a sound that was somehow scary,” Hery said, referring to the public alert alarm.

The Meteorological Agency issued an emergency warning for heavy rain at around 7:40 p.m. that day, and the Hiroshima Municipal Government followed up with an emergency alert email at 8:02 p.m. that ordered residents in Asakita Ward to evacuate.

But the notice was written in Japanese and contained many kanji, so the Indonesians could not read it.

They said they began to fear for their safety when muddy water began flowing into their residence when they opened the front door. Unaware of the evacuation order, they carried the mud out after the water receded and went to bed.

At around 3:30 a.m. the next morning, they heard a roaring sound as if a helicopter was overhead and felt their dorm shake violently before collapsing. Hery and two other interns barely escaped, but Alif got caught between the structure and the sediment. He was rescued about six hours later.

“We would have escaped if we’d known the email was an evacuation order,” Alif said.

The Hiroshima Municipal Government posts disaster information in multiple languages on its website, but an official said it has not been able to do the same for its emergency alert emails, which are sent via a mobile phone operator.

“There is a limit to the number of characters we can send, and we currently do not have a system where we can transmit the alerts simultaneously in foreign languages,” the official said.

Only a few mobile phones are equipped with translation functions.

Yasuko Iwashita, 50, a lecturer at Hiroshima Bunkyo Women’s University who is an expert on foreign interns in Japan, emphasized that disaster information must be made available in multiple languages because few foreign people can understand such content in Japanese.

“We also need to work on setting up places where foreigners can stop by and connect with Japanese people who can obtain information quickly in times of disasters,” she said.