TOKYO: More than 300 people died in July from weather-related disasters in one of Japan’s deadliest months in recent years.
First came record rainfall. Disaster authorities say at least 220 people were killed early in the month by severe flooding and landslides in western Japan, with nine more still missing and presumed dead. That was followed by record temperatures topping 40°C. The heat has been blamed for 116 deaths.
The toll was high, even for a country prone to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and typhoons. One of the wealthiest nations in the world, Japan has used its technological prowess to build substantial defences against natural disasters.
A big-enough disaster, though, overwhelms the defences.
Western Japan saw historic rainfall at the end of the first week of July. Warm and humid air from the Pacific Ocean intensified a seasonal rain front, triggering torrential downpours, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
What was left of a typhoon earlier in the week added to water levels. The death toll was the largest from a major storm since 1982, according to the Nippon.com website.
About half the victims were in Hiroshima prefecture, where the more than 100 deaths exceeded the 77 killed by landslides in the same state in 2014.
More than 70,000 troops and emergency workers were dispatched to distribute supplies and dig through debris to search for the missing. Workers and volunteers who descended on the region to help clean up and rebuild soon faced another risk: heatstroke.
One measure of the heat is the number of people taken to hospitals by ambulance with heatstroke symptoms. That figure more than tripled to nearly 10,000 in the second week of July and topped 22,000 in the third week before falling back to a still high 13,700 last week, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said yesterday.
The mercury hit 41.1°C on July 23 in Kumagaya, a city about 65km northwest of Tokyo, the highest ever recorded in Japan. The temperature reached 39°C the same day in central Tokyo.
Two lingering high-pressure systems trapped warm and humid air above the region, bringing record temperatures for about two weeks.
Many of the victims were elderly people who were not using air conditioning. Authorities and news media repeatedly urged people to stay inside and turn on the air conditioning. A first-grade student died on a school outing to a park. — AP