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At least 14 evacuation centers in three prefectures in the Kyushu region became unusable due to flooding and other reasons during the recent rain disaster.

“Each of us needs to protect our own lives proactively, thinking that places so far considered safe may no longer be,” one expert said.

Flooding could have been expected at the 14 evacuation centers, all of which are apparently located in flood hazard zones.

In Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto Prefecture, where the Kuma River flooded, two evacuation centers were closed in the early hours of last Tuesday, forcing evacuees there to move to other facilities located on higher ground. Both centers were inundated with water later.

Yatsushiro, also in Kumamoto, could not open five places designated as evacuation centers last Tuesday morning because they had already been flooded.

Two evacuation facilities were inundated in the Kumamoto village of Kuma.

In Omuta in the neighboring prefecture of Fukuoka, three evacuation centers sustained damage from the rain disaster.

One of them, opened at an elementary school, became isolated late at night on July 6 after floodwaters rose as high as 63 centimeters above ground level.

As a result, 22 schoolchildren who had become unable to go home due to the heavy rains stayed the night with evacuees on the second or higher floors of the school building.

The school was hit by “a combination of an unexpected amount of rainfall and a glitch in a pump,” an official of the Omuta Municipal Government recalled.

“We have only a limited number of facilities with enough space to accommodate evacuees,” a Yatsushiro city official said.

Central government guidelines require that evacuation centers be set up at places with relatively low disaster risks.

But many municipalities have little choice but to designate evacuation centers in flood hazard zones due to a lack of public facilities that meet the guidelines.

Floods and other disasters caused by heavy rains in the past few years “went beyond what can be handled under our conventional projections,” Toshitaka Katada of the University of Tokyo said. “We have to know that it is difficult for local governments to prepare evacuation centers.”

“It is important for each and every person to strive to protect their lives by themselves proactively,” he added, noting a need to look for alternatives to evacuation centers, such as homes of relatives, and to stockpile emergency food at home.

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