Atami marks 6 months since mudslide disaster

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Survivors and people who lost loved ones in last year’s mudslide pray at 10:30 a.m. Monday in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture.

ATAMI, Shizuoka — Memorials were held Monday for the 26 people who died in last year’s mudslide in Atami, a hot spring resort in Shizuoka Prefecture, six months after the disaster occurred.

Families who lost loved ones, together with survivors, offered prayers in Atami’s Izusan district at 10:30 a.m., the time the disaster struck.

The mudslide also left one person missing, and about 600 people were forced to evacuate from homes that were destroyed or heavily damaged. About 130 households are still living away from their homes.

In the hard-hit area around the Aizome River, those who lost loved ones were among about 20 people offering prayers. Yuji Seshimo, 54, said he continues to suffer after the death of his mother Yoko, then 77, and cannot sleep some nights.

About 80 searchers from the Shizuoka prefectural police, Japan Coast Guard Shimoda Office and others conducted an intensive search for Kazuko Ota, who remains missing.

According to a survey conducted by the city in November and December, less than half the residents of the Izusan district who have been living as evacuees hoped to return to their place of residence before the disaster.

One reason why was the continued uncertainty over when the restrictions on access to the area will be lifted. The city places great importance on residents’ feelings, and consequently has been forced to postpone the formulation of some plans to revitalize the area.

In the survey, the city asked 129 households still living in temporary accommodations about whether they intended to rebuild their homes. The temporary accommodations include public housing provided by the prefectural and municipal governments, homes leased privately, and the homes of relatives in and outside of the prefecture.

Among the 105 households that responded, 46 households, or 43.8%, wanted to live in the area where they were before the disaster, for example by repairing or rebuilding their homes.

However, another 46 households said they wanted to live somewhere other than their original place of residence, through such means as building or buying a new house, or leasing a home privately.

Thirteen households, or 12.4%, said they could not think about the matter at this time.

Atami is working to present the general framework of a reconstruction plan for the area this fiscal year. However, based on the results of the survey, Atami Mayor Sakae Saito likely will not include a specific community development project in the plan. Saito has stressed that the understanding of the local community is important in moving forward.

The city hopes to hear directly from disaster victims, to devise a detailed plan in the future.

A 54-year-old woman who evacuated from the prefecture after her home was damaged said, “I want to return to my home someday, but I can’t make up my mind, as there are no definite prospects for the future.”