Volunteers and staff mobilise for landslide and flood-hit communities

Published: 17 July 2012 14:26 CET

By Francis Markus

As Japan’s southern island of Kyushu and other areas were pounded by a year’s worth of rain over just a few days, triggering floods and landslides, Japanese Red Cross Society volunteers and staff have been working to provide medical care and relief to those hit by the disaster.

The society’s Kumamoto Chapter mobilized two medical teams, consisting of doctors and nurses, to Aso City, in the worst-affected area, providing medical care and first aid to the affected population.

“I’ve never experienced such torrential rain and flooding, even though I have been living here since I was three years old,” said 70-year old Kyoko Jinbo, President of the Red Cross Women’s Volunteer Association in Aso City. “Once the mountain has absorbed such massive rainfall and lost its solid ground, then another landslide can easily happen. Such a thought sends a chill down my spine.”

Kyoko Jinbo and her fellow volunteers have been battling to keep hundreds of evacuees fed with rice balls, tofu and hot soup with meatballs since July 11. She is not sure how long her group will need to continue serving meals, because another typhoon is approaching. Some evacuees are going home during the day but returning to the evacuation centre to eat and sleep, with water supplies still cut off in some areas.

Local  branches in the most severely hit Kyushu prefectures of Kumamoto, Oita and Fukuoka also distributed a range of relief supplies, including more than 5,400 blankets, 382 emergency sets consisting of a portable radio, towels, tissues, toothbrush sets and other daily necessities for families to use in evacuation centres, as well as 350 sleeping sets of pillow, mattress and pillow case.

Officials from the Japanese Red Cross Society said they were continuing to monitor the situation and were ready to provide more relief if needed.

At least two of the worst-hit prefectures have started to raise funds to help to support the survivors.

Residents of the flood-hit areas were gradually being allowed to return home after the record rainfall that left thousands cut off and at least 28 people dead.

Local government officials said they were beginning to clean up the debris: "We are stepping up efforts to remove rubble as roads remain covered with mud at many points," Masatatsu Minoda, an official from Kumamoto prefecture, told AFP news agency. But he said they might have to suspend efforts in case of further heavy rain.

Earlier, troops were airlifting supplies to those trapped in mountainous areas and seeking at least four missing people. Evacuation orders were issued on Saturday for a quarter of a million people. The orders were lifted in most areas on Sunday as the rain stopped and many people were allowed to return to their homes.

In the west of the main island of Honshu, Japanese media also reported that intense rainfall as heavy as 90mm per hour flooded some hundreds of houses in Kameoka and Kyoto.