National

Hiroshima marks fifth anniversary of deadly mudslides

Kyodo

Hiroshima marked the fifth anniversary on Tuesday of landslides that claimed 77 lives, with residents in the affected areas holding a memorial service to mourn the victims.

The memorial was attended by the bereaved families, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui and others.

Flowers were left at various sites across the city, including in Asakita and Asaminami wards — two areas hit particularly hard by the August 2014 mudslides.

The municipal and prefectural governments of Hiroshima oversaw remembrance ceremonies until 2017, and residents have been organizing them since then.

The families offered prayers for the souls of their loved ones on Tuesday, at memorial monuments engraved with the names of victims.

One such monument, in Asaminami Ward, carries the names of a newly married couple, Minami Yuasa and her husband Yasuhiro, who were 28 and 29 respectively when they died.

“Even after five years, I still feel alone and think, if only we’d done this or that, they would have been saved,” said Minami Yuasa’s father, Junji Wakamatsu, 56, as he offered flowers with his wife.

Minami Yuasa had been pregnant at the time, so her parents also placed a photograph of their “grandchild” — a composite of the faces of their daughter and son-in-law — together with photos of the couple at the monument.

“I’m sure they are enjoying their days, free from pain and difficulty,” said her mother, Naomi, 57.

As of the end of July, measures by the national and prefectural governments to improve defenses against landslides, such as slope reinforcements and mudslide control dams, have been completed in 96 locations. Work is ongoing in three final areas.

The controls proved effective when torrential rains swept western Japan last year, with the dams able to prevent sediment inflow in Asaminami Ward while offsetting other risks.

In an effort spearheaded by the city, new evacuation routes are also currently being established.

“Every year we see the faces of those we lost and it brings back memories. I want to continue to protect the monuments and try to move forward,” said Kazuo Zaihara, 71, head of a local neighborhood association in Asaminami Ward.

In the early hours of Aug. 20, 2014, localized torrential downpours caused a series of landslides in residential areas close to mountains near Hiroshima.

Around 400 houses were either washed away or damaged, and 74 people were killed. An additional three people died later of causes deemed to be related to the disaster.

Bereaved families from the 2018 floods in western Japan also attended Tuesday’s memorial ceremony in Asaminami Ward. Fujiko Ueki, 46, who lost her 18-year-old son in Aki Ward in Hiroshima, said, “I interacted (with families) after the disaster, and we were able to share our feelings. I hope to continue the bonding between disaster-hit areas.”