Deadly Flooding Hitting Japan Just As It Was Beating COVID-19

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At least 50 people have died according to The Guardian, and many others are stranded and unable to get help because of massive flooding in the Southwestern Japan island of Kyushu, where torrential downpours and mudslides turned streets into rivers and washed-out bridges on Monday, with heavy rain expected to continue through Tuesday, Kyodo News reported.  More than a million people were asked to evacuate and 6100 homes have been submerged along the Kuma River, which topped its banks and at least one levee broke.  The number of coronavirus cases in Japan had been decreasing rapidly, but the government is taking no chances and working to keep the virus from spreading through evacuation centers using disinfectant and social distancing, according to Reuters.

Why This Matters: Torrential downpours and flash floods are increasingly associated with climate change — and the problem is global.  Indeed, in Philadelphia on Monday afternoon, several hours of downpours along with up to 5″ of rain and large hail in some locations caused vehicles to be submerged, with numerous water rescues reported.  The Japanese government reported last week that the number of landslides there had increased by 50% over the previous ten years.  But evacuation centers like those in Japan would be far riskier in the U.S.

Japan’s Evacuation Centers

The challenges posed by the virus and evacuation centers in Japan could be instructive for other places.  For example, some evacuees are choosing to remain in their cars rather than go to a shelter and risk catching the virus. But the government has asked the car-bound evacuees to register with an evacuation center so that they can be accounted for, and have been instructed on how to avoid developing blood clots from staying in the same position for a long time.  And evacuees are also having their temperatures taken and any showing symptoms are being sent to another center where they can self-isolate.  The government had also been warning residents since June (it is the rainy season in Japan) to make evacuation plans that involve evacuating to a family or friend’s home rather than to a shelter if possible to reduce the risk of infection. One other action that will be launched by the Japanese government in August is to stand up an emergency website where citizens can post photos and video clips taken on their smartphones in times of major disasters, so that first responders and other authorities can better respond.  The government will ask citizens to post images of things such as damaged roads, collapsed buildings, and landslides on the website, which will only work when activated at the time of a major disaster.

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