November 12th 2019
Nov. 12 marks one month since Typhoon Hagibis made landfall in the Japanese archipelago, wreaking great damage, mainly in eastern Japan. Torrential rain brought by Typhoon Bualoi half a month later also lashed Japan, and the combination of these natural disasters claimed over 100 lives in total.
An investigation by the Mainichi Shimbun of the places where and circumstances in which people died found that about 30% of all victims perished in vehicles. There were cases in which people were driving home or to shelters when they were caught up in the floodwaters.
These accidents stemmed from people venturing out in dangerous conditions, when roads were already flooded. Why didn’t they make it to safety in time? A warning system with five easily understandable alert levels with evacuation and other information corresponding to the level of danger was launched this year, but it is necessary to examine whether this system was functioning properly.
Besides those in vehicles, there were also many people who were swept away by floodwaters indoors. While a significant proportion of those who died in vehicles were young, many of those who died inside their homes were elderly. While water levels were rising rapidly, some of these people were apparently unable to escape by themselves, or judge whether or not they should evacuate.
The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) held a news conference three days before the arrival of Typhoon Hagibis, the 19th of the year, and called for residents to be on their guard. But even then, people missed the opportunity to evacuate and died in succession in their vehicles or indoors.
Municipalities urge elderly people to evacuate when the warning level reaches 3. This corresponds with level 3 warnings released by the JMA and other bodies for floods and other such disasters. A system should be created to urge elderly and other vulnerable people to evacuate at least the day before a large, powerful typhoon like this one is predicted to make landfall and cause damage, and extend assistance to them.
The fatalities from heavy rains brought by Typhoon Bualoi, the year’s 21st tropical storm, included people who were driving home from work because the disaster took place on a weekday. If the companies where they worked had decided to suspend operations in advance, then their deaths could have been prevented. Many companies in Japan don’t suspend their operations even when a natural disaster like this is predicted to strike. Isn’t it time to rethink this style of working?
Recently climate change has caused damage from torrential rain to increase. Ideally, residents should share a sense of crisis, and quickly evacuate by themselves. But efforts are needed to spread such a sense of awareness, particularly in areas that have not had much experience handling natural disasters.
First, the government, local bodies and companies should review their organization and their systems to avoid evacuation delays. Then society as a whole must work on creating a system to protect people’s lives.