• Kyodo

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Seventy people on Tuesday filed a damages suit against current and former landowners allegedly involved in land alterations and the creation of a massive soil mound where a mudslide in July killed 26 people in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture.

In the lawsuit filed with the Numazu branch of the Shizuoka District Court, the plaintiffs — including bereaved family members of the victims and local business operators — are seeking ¥3.2 billion in damages from people and companies involved in managing the land.

"We will take action to ensure that this man-made disaster is never repeated," said Yuji Seshimo, 53, who lost his mother in the mudslide.

After days of heavy rain, the mudslide hit Atami on the morning of July 3, destroying 131 homes and leaving 26 people dead and one missing.

Following the fatal mudslide, local authorities launched an investigation into the cause of the disaster and how the land in question was managed. An estimated 54,000 cubic meters of soil was found to have been brought to the mountain by a real estate management firm in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, possibly exacerbating the damage.

Around 56,000 cubic meters of soil in total, mostly the same soil left by the now-defunct company, hurtled down the hillside into a nearby river, traveling a distance of about 2 kilometers, according to local authorities.

The Shizuoka Prefectural Government said the company had reported in 2009 its plan to pile up soil at the site to a height of 15 meters, but the actual height of the soil had reached around 50 meters shortly before the mudslide occurred.

Industrial waste contamination in the soil was discovered in 2010 and the land owner was subsequently ordered to remove it, according to the prefectural government.

The firm was subject to multiple administrative directions by the prefectural and Atami city governments.

The plaintiffs have now sued the company, a former executive of the company, the current owner of the land and the landowner's real estate company in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, as well as the company that allegedly delivered soil to the land.

A lawyer for the current landowner said the company established by the defendant has "nothing to do with the case."

Another defendant, an executive of the liquidated real estate firm which previously owned the land, has said the company never made any improper land alterations at the site.

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