• Kyodo, Jiji


Local residents and bereaved family members of victims held gatherings Monday to mark the second anniversary of massive flooding and mudslides triggered by torrential rain in western Japan that claimed 296 lives.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the memorial services in Hiroshima and Okayama prefectures commemorating the worst rain-related disaster in decades were held with limited attendees and social distancing measures in place within the venues.

The events also took place as Kumamoto Prefecture continues to suffer from massive flooding from heavy rain that began early Saturday, with more than 20 people dead.

At a memorial service in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, 51 people, including bereaved kin and local residents, offered flowers for the victims. In Kurashiki, 70 people died due to the 2018 torrential rains that triggered landslides and floods, including those who died for indirect disaster-related reasons.

Aika Sumasu, 33, offered words of condolences at the ceremony, representing the bereaved families.

"My emotional wounds won't heal with the passage of time," said Sumasu, who lost her grandfather, 92-year-old Seishiro, in the disaster. "Based on the lessons I learned from my hard experience, I want to pass on to the future what we can do to protect lives from disasters."

Kurashiki Mayor Kaori Ito, in her speech at the ceremony, touched on the heavy rains that hit the southwestern prefecture of Kumamoto over the weekend. "We sent sandbags, water supply bags, shovels and other items to the city of Hitoyoshi (in Kumamoto) that suffered damage in the same way as we did," the mayor said.

The service in Kurashiki was attended by 350 people last year, but the COVID-19 epidemic forced organizers to drastically limit the number of participants this year. Some of those attending watched the ceremony from another room of the venue through a monitor screen.

A memorial ceremony held in Aki Ward in the city of Hiroshima was attended by 72 people, including Fujiko Ueki, 47, who lost her 18-year-old son, Shotaro, in the disaster.

"The shock of the disaster of course recedes as time passes by, but the sorrow of losing our family never eases," Ueki said in a speech given on behalf of the bereaved kin.

After her son's death, Ueki got qualified as a disaster prevention expert. "I'm resolved to convey to many people the importance of having a sense of impending crisis."

In Asakita Ward in the city of Hiroshima, Mayor Kazumi Matsui vowed to boost the city's resilience against natural disasters, saying, "We will make efforts to ensure citizens can live safely and with peace of mind."

Representing the bereaved families, 46-year-old Kenjiro Katayama, who lost his mother and elder sister, said, "With a series of extreme weather events taking place, we are left with the challenge of how to reduce deaths in (future) natural disasters."

At an event held in the Mabi district in Kurashiki, Minoru Oto, whose house was flooded, said, "The past two years have been filled with sad events, but we have to go on living."

Oto, 86, also said his thoughts go out to victims of the flooding in Kumamoto.

Heavy rains hit wide areas in western Japan, also including Ehime Prefecture, between July 6 and 8 in 2018, with the Meteorological Agency issuing emergency warnings.

Memorial services will be held on Tuesday in Ehime Prefecture, which was hard hit on July 7.

The torrential rain left 149 people dead in Hiroshima Prefecture, 89 in Okayama Prefecture and 33 in Ehime. Around 4,300 people are still living in temporary housing in the three prefectures.

The coronavirus pandemic has also affected construction of public housing for disaster victims in the Tenno district in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, pushing back the completion schedule by one month to late July.

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