National

One year after floods, hard-hit area of Okayama Prefecture sees spike in thefts targeting victims

Kyodo

A town in western Japan hit by flooding caused by torrential rain a year ago is now struggling with thefts targeting disaster victims who are working to rebuild their lives.

Police have called on people in the Mabicho district of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, to “ensure they lock (their homes and vehicles) and keep an eye on valuable goods, especially now that the presence of vehicles (from outside the area) is more frequent than immediately after the disaster.”

Mabicho was one of the areas hardest hit by the flooding and mudslides in western Japan in July last year that claimed the lives of 275 people.

The worst rain disaster in decades killed 137 people in Hiroshima Prefecture, 79 in Okayama Prefecture and 33 in Ehime Prefecture, with more than 10,000 people still living in temporary housing in the three hardest-hit regions.

In the Mabicho area, the number of vehicle break-ins in the January-June period this year totaled 14, compared with only one in the same period last year, local police said. All 14 cases involved unlocked vehicles.

In one case, a construction worker in the city of Okayama was arrested on suspicion of stealing a wallet from a truck belonging to an evacuee who had returned to restore his home, the police said.

Some houses that became vacant following the disaster have also been the target of thefts. In April, a man was arrested on suspicion of sneaking into a house that had been flooded and stealing a table and chair, the police said.

“I stole them so I could use them myself,” the man was quoted by the police as saying. The perpetrator himself was a disaster victim.

“The number of vacant houses has increased and many cars unknown (to locals) pass by in the daytime,” a Mabicho resident in her 70s said. “(The series of thefts) are unacceptable at a time when we are working hard to start a new life.”