Responsibility for disaster must be clarified to prevent recurrence

One year has passed since a mudslide disaster claimed the lives of many people. Responsibility for the collapse of a massive soil mound must be clarified, and efforts to prevent a recurrence must be strengthened.

Twenty-seven people were killed in the mudslide that occurred in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, last July, and one person is still missing. More than 130 houses and other structures were affected, with some of them swept away.

The earth and sand have already been removed, but demolition of the remaining damaged buildings has just begun. About 200 residents are still living in public housing and other evacuation shelters. It is expected that the residential areas will be rebuilt around 2025.

The surviving victims, who were deprived of loved ones and had their lives upended, are in deep pain. It is essential that the central, prefectural and municipal governments continue to provide long-lasting support to help them rebuild their lives.

The collapsed soil mound was about 50 meters high, more than three times the permitted legal standard. Both the former landowner at the time of the mound’s construction and the current owner deny any responsibility. Ignoring the suffering of the affected people is unacceptable.

Meanwhile, a third-party committee that examined the response of the prefectural and municipal governments concluded that there were numerous opportunities to stop the development of the soil mound and that the administrative response was a “failure.”

The families of the victims and others have filed a lawsuit against the old and new landowners, and they will soon file a lawsuit against the prefecture and the city seeking compensation for damages. The police are investigating the case on suspicion of such charges as professional negligence resulting in death. Both criminal and civil investigations must be conducted to determine who is responsible.

After the mudslide occurred, the government conducted a nationwide survey on the state of soil mounds and found deficiencies in more than 1,000 locations, including the lack of drainage. In some cases, landowners and other involved persons were arrested on suspicion of building up a mound without authorization.

A law to tighten soil mound regulations will come into effect by next May. The law designates areas where landslides could cause damage to homes and other structures as regulated areas, and requires that permissions be obtained for creating a soil mound in these areas. Corporations that violate the law will be fined up to ¥300 million.

Local governments are urged to take a firm stance against dangerous soil mounds.

In recent years, typhoons and torrential rains have become increasingly severe. Last month, the Japan Meteorological Agency introduced a system to forecast “linear precipitation bands,” which cause heavy rainfall in a short period of time, half a day to six hours in advance.

It is important to create an environment in which residents can quickly evacuate. The central and local governments should disseminate weather forecasts and disaster prevention information in an easy-to-understand manner.

An increasing number of local governments have decided to release the names of missing people when a disaster occurs. Releasing the names of missing people directly enhances prompt lifesaving efforts and raises residents’ awareness of disaster prevention and mitigation. Local governments should take a proactive approach to this issue.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 5, 2022)