Rescuers clear debris scattered on a street in a flood hit area in Kumano, Hiroshima prefecture on July 9, 2018. Rescue workers in Japan battled on July 9 to reach residents trapped after devastating rains that have killed at least 75 people, as authorities warned about the risk of landslides. / AFP PHOTO / Martin BUREAU
As Tomie Takebe looked at the ruins of her flood-ravaged home in the Japanese town of Kurashiki, she struggled to say whether she would ever live there again.
Record rainfall that unleashed devastating floods and landslides has killed at least 156 people in Japan, and many of those who survived face an uncertain future in homes and towns transformed beyond recognition.
Takebe, 67, was in the Mabi district of Kurashiki in Okayama prefecture, which was partially engulfed by flooding that has now receded, leaving a thick layer of silt as a sign of where the water once was.
“I don’t know what to say,” she said, as she looked at the damage to her two storey home, its contents jumbled together and caked in mud.
“My fridge, everything… It’s all covered in mud,” she said, as relatives helped her bring items outside.
She moved around trying to work out how to clean up, but with no running water or electricity, the task seemed impossible.
And with her life turned upside-down, thinking much further ahead was a struggle.
“Maybe I’ll move and live with my sister in Osaka,” she said.
“But I’m not sure. I’m focusing on cleaning the house for now. I’ll think about the future later.”
Rumours of looters
Emotions were running high throughout the tight-knit community, where some neighbours kept in touch with each other during the disaster, messaging constantly to check on each other’s safety.
Rumours circulated about looters or thieves targeting homes, and residents shouted at some outsiders as they moved around the neighbourhood.
On a main road, work crews had moved debris to either side of the street, lining the road with a trail of crushed and toppled cars and fallen trees.
Streams of water were still flowing like shallow rivers in some area, and everywhere there was mud left behind by the floodwater.
On one road, convenience store workers dumped expired drinks into a drain, while nearby a fish lay on its side, drying in the sun.
Hirotoshi Ohta, 50, a construction worker, was at work and said the company had lost more than a dozen trucks to the floods.
The firm had sent out some of its remaining concrete mixer trucks to bring ground water into the area to help the clean-up work.
But it was unclear how normal business could resume, Ohta said.
“We don’t know what to do,” he said.
“We are a construction firm, but we don’t have our trucks.”
“We’re freaked out and at a loss,” he said, as he cleaned a sand-covered parking lot.
‘I am not alone’
Fumiko Inokuchi, 61, was sorting through the ruined remains of the first floor of her home, carrying a picture of her children in baseball uniforms.
She was at home by herself on Saturday, after her husband went to work, when she realised flood water would soon trap her in the house.
She escaped across the road to a three-storey care home for the elderly, and watched in horror as the water gradually consumed the bottom floor of her house.
She and her neighbours were at the care centre until Sunday morning, when soldiers in boats rescued them from a second floor balcony.
Chatty and cheerful despite the tragedy, she nonetheless welled up as she described her home.
“I got married here, and we built this house two years afterwards. We raised our three small sons to adulthood here, there are so many memories.”
But she has resolved that any insurance money she gets for the house, which she renovated only a few years ago after taking out a loan, will not go to reconstruction.
Instead she wants to give the money to one of her three sons, so they can repair their own homes, and she hopes to move in with them.
“I am alive. I believe human beings are very strong. Resilient,” she said, tears filling her eyes.
“I am not alone in this situation. All of my neighbours are in the same position. All of Mabi is the same.”