Sound preparations a must for disasters
The combination of a typhoon and an earthquake reminds us afresh that Japan is an archipelago of disasters.
First, heavy rains associated with Typhoon No. 9 hit various places in western Japan. As the typhoon moved east, an earthquake with an intensity of lower 6 on the Japanese scale of 7 occurred in the Tokai region, which fell in the path of the typhoon, with its focus under Suruga Bay off Shizuoka Prefecture.
It was found that Tuesday's quake was not related to the much-feared expected major Tokai earthquake. However, the damages done by the two disasters are serious. We hope the central and local governments involved do their best in rescue and restoration efforts.
The heavy rains caused flooding of rivers and landslides in many places. The number of people dead or missing reached 30 in Hyogo Prefecture and surrounding areas. Many houses were buried by landslides.
In the Shizuoka Prefecture earthquake, a violent tremor of lower 6 in intensity was recorded in several cities in the prefecture. Many injuries were reported, both minor and serious, including people hurt in neighboring Kanagawa and Aichi prefectures as well as Tokyo.
As rainfall from Typhoon No. 9 before the quake made the ground loose, the quake caused landslides in several places, apparently broadening and combining the impact of the two disasters.
In particular, the collapse of part of the Tomei Expressway in Shizuoka Prefecture is expected to seriously affect the nation's distribution system.
A 100-meter section of the expressway, dubbed the "aorta of transportation," which connects eastern and western Japan, was destroyed. The road should be repaired as soon as possible to allow traffic to begin to flow once more.
Typhoon season is just getting started. A huge earthquake could occur anywhere. While work on rescue and relief efforts is vital, it also is important to check whether preparations for natural disasters are sufficient.
Our concern is the current state of evacuation arrangements prepared in case of flooding and landslides. In Hyogo Prefecture, there were those who were swept away by the flooded river while evacuating in anticipation of the river rising. In addition, the evacuation took place at night.
In western Japan, large-scale landslides caused by heavy rains occurred last month, killing 30 people in Yamaguchi Prefecture and other places. At that time, too, problems concerning the evacuation arrangement were pointed out.
The government in 2005 compiled guidelines on evacuation in natural disasters and called on municipalities throughout the nation to streamline evacuation procedures. The government took the move in light of frequent disasters caused by heavy rains the previous year that left more than 200 people dead.
Guidelines poorly observed
The guidelines stipulate that places where the danger of flooding and landslides is high must be identified. Based on the data, a hazard map must be made marking areas where damage is expected. Conditions under which residents will be asked to evacuate have to be decided in advance, taking into consideration the amount and rate of rise in river water levels and amount of rainfall, according to the guidelines.
However, according to the results of a survey by the Fire and Disaster Management Agency announced this spring, only about 40 percent of cities, towns and villages in the country have set such evacuation criteria. Similarly, about 40 percent of municipalities have prepared text messages to tell residents how to evacuate, according to the survey.
The Meteorological Agency says the incidence of heavy rainfalls in a year has been increasing in recent years. We should spare no pains in making a reality of the old Japanese adage that "If you are prepared, you don't have to worry."
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 12, 2009)