Thousands flee landslides and flash floods in Hiroshima

Published: 22 August 2014 14:50 CET

By Midori Tasaka, Japanese Red Cross Society

Since 20 August, torrential rains have lashed Hiroshima prefecture in western Japan causing flash floods and landslides which have killed 39 people. A further 52 people are missing and more than 168,000 people have been advised to evacuate to safer areas. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, a total of about 240mm of rain – equivalent to a month’s rainfall – fell on the city of Hiroshima within 24 hours. The force of the landslides destroyed roads, buildings and other infrastructure in mountainous areas.

Evacuation notes have been sent to around 70,000 households and rescue efforts are ongoing by the prefecture’s police and firefighters. Helicopters are taking rescue teams into difficult to access areas.

“It’s been three days since I got here. My house was covered with mud and it was very hard for me to get out,” says a 60-year-old man staying in one of the evacuation centers. “The landslide destroyed my office which was right next to my house. I called a taxi but they couldn’t reach me, so a police officer helped me and drove me here. I desperately want to go back home but the evacuation order in my district is still on.”  

Two medical teams with support staff have been deployed from the Japanese Red Cross Society Hiroshima Chapter and the Red Cross Hiroshima Genbaku Hospital. One team is currently providing mobile clinic services in several of the evacuation centres set up in local schools and government administration offices. The Hiroshima Genbaku Hospital has also been receiving injured patients and is providing psychosocial support services.

The evacuation centres are filled with elderly people, many of whom are worried about their health. Yasuyo Yamada, head nurse with the Red Cross medical team says: “A large number of people have high blood pressure. I think it’s because of their anxiety over the past few days.  Some of the elderly haven’t been eating properly. We are worried about their health since this evacuation could last a bit longer.”  

The Red Cross has also mobilized relief items which have been distributed to the evacuation centres. As of 21 August, 1,110 blankets and 462 emergency kits had been distributed. Each emergency kit contains 25 items including towels, a cup, utensils, toothbrush, a flashlight and portable radio; most evacuees were left with nothing when they were forced to flee their homes.

One elderly evacuee had a lucky escape. “On the day of the disaster, rain was pouring down heavily and there was lots of lightning. The rain continued for a few hours and when I looked out the window, I witnessed the landslide. I got extremely worried about my neighbour and went to see her house. It was completely destroyed and I immediately rang the fire department for help.”

Although the rain has abated, the skies in Hiroshima remain cloudy and local residents continue to seek safety at the evacuation centres, prompting the government to open new shelters.

The Japanese Red Cross Society has launched a national emergency appeal and the funds raised will be distributed as cash grants to those affected by the disaster. A grant disbursement committee will be set up, led by the prefectural and municipal governments.