Govt held partially responsible for 2015 Kinugawa river flood

Jiji Press
Plaintiffs hold up a banner reading “victory” on Friday in response to a court ruling that partially acknowledges the government’s responsibility in a lawsuit over a flood on the Kinugawa river, in Mito

MITO (Jiji Press) — A court on Friday held the government partly responsible for a massive flood after the Kinugawa river burst in 2015, recognizing its inadequate river management and ordering damages payments.

The damages lawsuit was filed with Mito District Court by some 30 people including residents of the city of Joso, Ibaraki Prefecture, affected by the disaster, demanding ¥358.7 billion in damages.

Heavy rains that hit the Kanto and Tohoku regions in September 2015 caused a Kinugawa river levee breach, inundating a large area of the city. The plaintiffs claimed that the government’s failure to manage the river properly led to the flood.

Presiding Judge Masahiko Abe ordered the government to pay a total of ¥39 million to nine plaintiffs in what lawyers representing them say is an unusual flood-related ruling recognizing state responsibility for inappropriate river management.

Twenty-five plaintiffs dissatisfied with the ruling expressed their intention to appeal.

In the ruling, Abe said that the government neglected to designate a sand hill along the river in the city’s Wakamiyado district as an area managed under the river law, even though the hill played an important role in flood control.

Without such designation, the sand hill was excavated by the private sector, and the flood happened as a result, Abe also said.

“If the excavation of the sand hill had been prevented by government designation, the extent of the flood damage would have been considerably smaller. There was a defect in river management,” Abe said.

Meanwhile, the judge rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that the government deferred planned improvements of a relatively low levee in the city’s Kamimisaka district, which collapsed because of the rains, to conduct work in other areas along the river.

The ruling is “historic” in that it recognized government responsibility, said Kazumi Katakura, cohead of the plaintiff team. “Floods happen almost every year in Japan. The government should take the ruling seriously and change its way of managing rivers.”