Landslides in Hiroshima kill 39, with 7 missing

Heavy rain has caused landslides in Hiroshima prefecture in Japan killing at least 39 people including some children with at least a further seven missing.

Hiroshima landslides August 20, 2014 – image Reuters/Japan Times

Japan Times:

The landslides and flooding triggered by torrential rain overnight Wednesday that engulfed residential areas in Hiroshima so far have left 39 people confirmed dead and seven remained missing, and more Self-Defense Forces personnel have been sent in to join the search and rescue effort.

The government boosted the number of SDF personnel deployed for rescue operations to 600 to continue operations through the night. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was taking his summer vacation, cut short a game of golf to return to his office in Tokyo to deal with the disaster.

In Asakita Ward, Hiroshima, one of the hardest-hit areas, a record 217.5 mm of rain fell in the three hours from 1:30 a.m. Wednesday. The city of Hiroshima started issuing evacuation advisories at 4:15 a.m., but an official admitted the action was late.

Japan is perhaps more susceptible to natural disasters than many other parts of the world. Thoughts turn immediately to the 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. As of February this year the earthquake and tsunami had claimed 15,889 lives with another 2,609 people unaccounted for and presumed dead. A total of 18,498 deaths.

Even though the nuclear plant at Fukushima actually survived the earthquake but could not cope with the tsunami, it is the incident at the Fukushima nuclear plant which still gets all the headlines and lives on in the collective memory. The 18,498 deaths caused by the earthquake and tsunami are somehow pushed aside by the fears engendered by Fukushima. There was considerable radiation leakage but not a single person was killed at Fukushima. Fears outweigh reality.

The Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear accident which followed the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011, was about the worst accident that could have happened in a nuclear plant. Hydrogen explosions occurred in the outer containment casings of 2 of the 6 reactors and meltdown of 2 of the cores also took place. A nuclear plant is not a nuclear bomb and a chain reaction leading to an explosion is not a real possibility. It is meltdown of the cores which is the bottom line.

Yet there were no deaths. As the official report from May (2013) this year said:

 No radiation-related deaths or acute effects have been observed among nearly 25,000 workers (including TEPCO employees and contractors) involved at the accident site.

It was the earthquake and tsunami which did the damage, caused some 18,000 deaths  and which led to the nuclear accident. But radiation from the nuclear accident has caused no deaths. And the radiation will cause no deaths.

Why – in terms of media response, knee-jerk government responses and general hysteria – does the awful reality of the earthquake and tsunami get dwarfed and swamped by alarmist but unreal fears? It is as if the nuclear incident had caused the earthquake and tsunami rather than the other way around. It cannot just be due to a fatalistic acceptance of natural catastrophes.

Even with man-made – and therefore presumably avoidable – events, we seem able, after it  has happened, to put even genocide and brutality and several thousands killed to one side and move on. Unless there is a personal connection to the disaster we just file it in our minds in the “Disasters” folder and carry on. Perhaps it is human imagination at work. As long as a risk is unrealised the potential damage is unlimited and we are free to – and we do –  imagine the most unimaginable catastrophes. Once a risk materialises then – no matter how large the disaster – it is finite and capped.

The fear of even an infinitesimal probability of an infinite risk seems to weigh more heavily in the human consciousness than the most awful – but finite – disaster that has occurred. Which insurance companies are very thankful for.

Tags: , , ,

%d bloggers like this: