National

Oil leak at ironworks complicates disastrous flooding in Saga

Kyodo

Volunteers gathered over the weekend to help clean up parts of Saga Prefecture flooded by torrential rain on Wednesday, but oil leaking from an ironworks is compounding their troubles.

In the town of Omachi, some 50,000 liters of oil used to cool iron is believed to have been washed away from the local plant run by Saga Tekkohsho Co.

The oil spread to residential areas and farmlands, damaging houses and ruining crops.

Battling the strong smell, residents, volunteers and Self-Defense Forces troops distributed absorption sheets to soak up the oil from streets and rice paddies.

Kenji Kishikawa, 69, a rice farmer who was planning to harvest his crop in October, said he lost everything.

“It is the first time for me to experience the whole crop being destroyed,” he said. “The soil is contaminated and some of my farm machinery was damaged as well. I’m not sure if I can continue rice farming.”

Toshimitsu Yamanaka, 70, who runs a sheet metal plant near the ironworks, said his house and plant were flooded with oily water. “I’ve been working here since I graduated from high school, but maybe now is the time for me to quit,” he said.

The Saga Prefectural Government is working to remove the oil but said it hasn’t quite grasped the extent of the disaster. The prefectural government said Saturday more than 1,000 buildings in the prefecture had been flooded, adding that it plans to let evacuees live in public housing or houses that the government rents for them.

On Sunday, a body was discovered in the Rokkaku River near the area damaged by oil spills and local police are investigating the case as possibly connected to the torrential rain.

Saga Tekkohsho officials said it raised the open oil tanks by dozens of centimeters after a similar leak happened during heavy rain in July 1990. On Wednesday, however, despite surrounding the eight tanks with fences and sandbags, they could not prevent the oil from mixing with the floodwaters because the tanks are not designed to be covered with lids.

Ken Taromaru, the managing director, apologized to residents, saying the rainfall was far more than their worst-case scenario.

Hiromi Nakata, managing director of Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Yudaku Boujo Kenkyuukai, which researches inland oil spills, said the Saga incident is one of the most serious cases ever to strike a residential area in Japan.

“There might have been a lack of preparation for emergencies including oil fences and absorption mats,” Nakata said.

Local governments in Saga on Saturday began accepting volunteers, and many people lined up to help clean houses and sort emergency supplies in Omachi and the city of Takeo, which were hard hit by floods.