Shocked city assesses flood damage

Published 10:13 am Friday, September 11, 2015

JOSO, Japan — Happiness is relative — floods may destroy your family’s livelihood and fill your house with mud, but at least it’s standing and you’re alive.

“It’s still here!” said 34-year-old Chie Takahashi, one of the first residents to return to her heavily damaged neighborhood Friday, a day after a swollen river poured into the Japanese city of Joso. “I was afraid the house might have been washed away, because this area looked totally wiped out when I saw it on TV last night.”

The devastated Misaka neighborhood is one of the worst-hit sections of Joso, a city of 60,000 people about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Tokyo. Houses were tilted and half submerged, concrete walls torn down, and a road ruptured. A row of utility poles leaned at an angle, and traffic signals lay collapsed on the ground.

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Two days of torrential rain caused flooding and landslides across much of Japan this week. The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said three people died — a woman in her 60s found after a landslide hit houses in Kanuma city, a woman in her 40s in a car that washed away in Kurihara city, and a man in his 20s who fell into a drainage ditch in Nikko city.

Another river overflowed Friday morning into the city of Osaki, about 300 kilometers (190 miles) north of Joso, swamping homes and fields and stranding at least 60 people, according to media reports.

But the hardest-hit place appeared to be Joso, where the fast-rising waters led to a series of dramatic rescues by helicopters on Thursday.

As the sun returned Friday and the floodwaters subsided, some Misaka residents came back to find serious scars.

Wearing rain boots, Takahashi set her foot into a thick layer of slippery mud and slowly approached the front door. Inside, she found more mud on the floor and furniture.

She and her husband lost their kebab restaurant down the road. “I already checked it out before coming here, but it was destroyed,” she said with a twinge of sadness, looking at the ground. “But we all survived, so I’m happy.”