Areas devastated by Typhoon Hagibis in Nagano Prefecture and the Tohoku region are struggling to respond after the most powerful typhoon to hit Japan in decades caused record-breaking rainfall, massive flooding, mudslides and outages of electricity and water supplies.
In Marumori, Miyagi Prefecture, damage was so widespread that authorities faced difficulties at first making a full assessment of just how severe the problems were. Three days after floods ravaged the town, they are now starting to grasp the scale of the disaster.
“I don’t want to use the word ‘unexpected,’ but I was shocked,” said Mayor Kunio Hoshina during a news conference at the town office on Tuesday afternoon.
In the town’s mountainous district of Mawarikura, where trees were toppled by the landslides leaving the mountainside bare, two bodies were found. Ground beneath the main road leading to the village also collapsed.
Standing stunned near his house, 75-year-old Takeo Otsuki recalled the moment the landslide hit.
“It made a loud noise like thunder,” he said.
With people still thought to be missing, prefectural police and other authorities have continued around-the-clock search and rescue efforts in the affected areas. Residents in regions cut off due to landslides continue to wait for help — some marking the ground in desperation to spell out the characters for “water” and “food.”
Of seven confirmed casualties in Motomiya, Fukushima Prefecture, five were 70 years old or older, and many were found on the first floors of their homes.
“They probably weren’t able to evacuate (to higher floors) due to problems with their legs,” said a resident.
Many residents also recalled the major flood of Aug. 5, 1986, when the river embankment collapsed in several places.
“The water … came up to around my waist. I was surprised to see koi fish float into my room,” said a 69-year-old man who lives around 50 meters from the banks of the Abukuma River.
Also in Fukushima Prefecture, six people in the city of Iwaki died as a result of the Natsui River overflowing. The whereabouts of a 97-year-old bedridden woman remains unknown.
Her second son, who is 65, received a call from his 70-year-old older brother at around 4 a.m. on Sunday calling for help to evacuate their mother, whose house was inundated to the ceiling.
When he arrived, he saw his brother trying to get her to safety using a mattress. But he could only watch as the two were quickly swept away by the current into the darkness. Only the brother was rescued a few kilometers away around an hour and a half later.
“I keep regretting that I didn’t get there to help 30 minutes earlier. … Whatever state she’s in, I just hope they find her soon,” the second son said.
In Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, widespread water outages have continued. Hospital staff have been working hard to keep artificial dialysis treatments running — a procedure that requires large volumes of water.
Even though many of the staff also had their homes damaged in the typhoon, they have still managed to make around nine round trips a day since Monday between a water distribution reservoir and the hospital, to secure the approximately 18 tons of water required.
“Taking responsibility for protecting the lives of our patients is our duty. We have no choice but to do it,” said the director of the hospital.
Student volunteers and others have assembled to aid with cleanup efforts throughout Nagano Prefecture, which was badly hit by the typhoon.
On Tuesday morning, amid occasionally chilly winds, volunteers in the city of Chikuma worked to carry dirty furniture outside and strip tatami floors in the flooded home of Kazuyoshi Kanai.
“I didn’t know what to do as I’ve never experienced a flood before. They are a great help,” the 68-year-old said, smiling.
Takehiro Nakazawa, 19, volunteered with two friends, as his school was closed.
“I have friends whose houses were flooded, but my house was safe. If there’s anything I can do (to help), I want to do it,” he said.