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Living through a disaster in southwestern Japan | By Anita Koyangko

Eastern Highlander, Anita Koyangko, gives an interesting perspective to recent floods in Japan.

The recent flooding in southwestern Japan has left at least 100 dead and 16 missing in the hardest hit Hiroshima area. I live in Hiroshima Prefecture, in the city of Higashihiroshima in a small town called Saijo. Although I was not directly affected by the flooding and landslides it was nonetheless a traumatic experience for my family and I.

Normally in Japan “Tsuyu” the rainy season starts in late May-Early June to Mid-late July depending on the region. It can rain for the whole day and even into the next day, it’s quite a normal or expected occurrence. On the 4th of July in the afternoon it started raining lightly, the rain stopped for couple of hours and stated again in the early hours of Thursday morning. On Thursday morning, as my husband and I were taking our kids to nursery school it started to rain heavily, and continued to do so for the whole day. Since it was the rainy season, we thought nothing of it.

Later on around 6pm we started seeing on the news of areas flooding in in most parts of Hiroshima. Then we started receiving disaster warning messages on our phones and also on TV. Authorities started issuing evacuation warnings, to the people that are located in the danger zones (near hilly,mountainaous areas and along the rivers)
All the announcements were in Japanese, and I understood a fair bit of Japanese so I knew what they were saying, but for other foreigners who don’t understand Japanese this situation will be very difficult for them, and can even cause them their lives. So as a foreigner it is very important to get to know the emergency procedures beforehand.

My husband went to work that night, so I stayed home with my two kids. The rain continued to pour down heavily as I and my kids went to bed. We slept with the windows open because it was very hot and humid, I woke up at around 2 am(Friday), because the wind caused the rain to enter through the windows. When I woke up, I heard the rain and the ripples of the stream near my apartment has gotten louder, (raging I should say).
The moment of panic came for me when I looked outside and saw the water level has risen and the color turned a brown/yellowish/muddy, indicating that maybe a landslide

occurred at the head of the river. With the sound of the rain, and the stream and seeing the news of landslides and floods I panicked because I was alone with two young kids (2 years and almost 4 years). My apartment was located at a “safer(maybe)” place but there are mountains, and hill some 100meters away so I couldn’t put it past anything. And the rain was nothing like I have seen in all my years here. So many scenarios kept flashing through my mind, with no relative around ,all I have were friends but they too would be in that situation so its every man for himself. I packed some warm things, water and food and thought to myself that, if the stream overflows then I will take my kids and go to the nearest City Office. I stayed up watching the stream from 2-3 am, them my husband came home(sent home due to rain).

He told me not to panic, that the mountains were far and that we should be okay. I couldn’t sleep, I stayed up till 7am.
The rain continued the whole day on Friday too. We started seeing on the news the exact damage the flooding has caused, not only in Hiroshima but also neighboring Okayama Prefecture. The rain stopped on Saturday around 10 am. There was so much damage all over Hiroshima Prefecture. For the first time two people died from the town I live in. In August 2014 a similar flood occurred and about 72 people in Hiroshima City died too, but the damages were in one place, this time the damage spread all over the prefecture and the neighboring prefectures causing extensive damages.

On Saturday, I went to the shop but there was a shortage of food, there was no dairy product since most of them are brought from Hokkaido, no water bottles, no cup noodles, no vegetables and fruits etc. For the first time I saw, empty shelves on the supermarkets’. The Sanyo line, (West Japan Railway) has stopped. Extensive damages were done to the train tracks in so many places causing the train tracks to close even as I write this. I have never seen the train stopped for more than a couple of hours in my 9 years here, so I knew that the damages caused by the flood is immense.
This disaster has affected me personally unlike before, in terms of trains stopping (no work) and shortage of food, but this is nothing compared to those who lost loved ones and friends and their homes. The recovery and cleanup process is also very hard because as soon as the rain stopped the south west region is experiencing extreme heat and humidity and will continue for the next two weeks. We are also receiving warnings to not stay outdoors too long as it is very dangerous. So the search and rescue efforts ,and the victims trying to clean up their homes are working under extreme conditions. Such is the situation in Hiroshima now.
I would also like to add, that Japanese people are the most hardworking people I know, their attitude towards dealing with the disaster deserves accolades. Volunteers are pouring in from the region and the country, high school kids who lost friends have volunteered to assist, those affected have begun cleaning the first day the rain stopped.

I felt they had no time to grieve, as a Papua New Guinean I expect the grieving process to be different, but for them it’s better that way. They have to clean up their homes, and bury their dead and the same time, it’s very sad. There is a phrase in Japan called “mae muki” means looking forward or focused on the future. They will say “mae muki gambarimasu” I will focus on the future and try my best. They do not focus on their problem but the future. That is their attitude, and it’s very commendable.

Prime Minister Abe has been on the ground visiting victims and already pledged support and resources to the responsible local governments, but people are not waiting on that, they are already on their feet. What they need most is manpower, water and temporary shelter, which is already provided to them, day 1.As I and my friend went around looking for water to buy for her mother in law who lives in Kure, the most affected area in Hiroshima, and seeing the peoples attitude towards the disaster/recovery I thought to myself ,that the ultimate goal for any welfare government is to make its people self-reliant. This is a solution in itself. That is what the Japanese society is, and something Papua New Guinea government and its people can try to emulate.

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