Photo/IllutrationEmergency cardboard beds were set up in partitioned “rooms” in the gymnasium of the Okada Elementary School in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, on July 16. (Takuya Isayama)

  • Photo/Illustraion

KURASHIKI, Okayama Prefecture--Mental distress, unhygienic conditions and searing temperatures are taking a toll on survivors of some of the worst flooding to hit western Japan in the torrential rain disaster.

More than 300 evacuees were staying at the city-run Okada Elementary School in Kurashiki’s Mabicho district as of July 16, about a week after the downpours ended.

The daily routines of many evacuees consist of eating breakfast at the shelter and leaving to obtain disaster certificates, to apply for temporary housing and to clean up their flood-hit houses.

They often return to the shelter in the evening, worn out and covered in mud and dust.

The elementary school is one of 224 evacuation centers in 16 prefectures housing a total of 4,877 people as of noon on July 16, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

More than 200 people were killed after days of torrential rain triggered flooding and landslides across much of western Japan. Dozens remain missing. About 50 people died in Mabicho.

Heatstroke is now a serious concern. Temperatures in Kurashiki soared to around 35 degrees over the long weekend from July 14 through 16.

Many evacuees are also coming down with conjunctivitis, gastroenteritis and other ailments associated with unhygienic conditions. And the rising psychological distress in the shelter is evident.

“It is just so exhausting,” said Keiko Kunimoto, who has been staying at the Okada Elementary School since the floodwaters nearly reached the second floor of her house.

Since the waters subsided, the 74-year-old has cycled for about 10 minutes from the shelter to reach her home for cleanup almost every day.

With help from volunteers, she managed to remove mud-covered furniture and appliances from her house.

On July 14, she saw a doctor who prescribed eye drops for her itchy eyes.

“The heat is wearing me down,” Kunimoto said. “Many people around me are also complaining about itchy eyes.”

An 81-year-old man was prescribed sleeping medication after he kept waking up in the middle of the night at the evacuation center and could not go back to sleep.

Before the torrential rain forced him to leave his home, he drank a small amount of “shochu” distilled liquor mixed with water every day.

But after he took shelter here, he stopped drinking because of the other evacuees around him.

“It is becoming harder psychologically because I have been thrown into a completely different environment,” the man said.

According to staff members of the Japanese Red Cross Society, which operates the first-aid station at the shelter, most of the people seeking medical attention at the beginning of the disaster were physically injured while fleeing the flooding.

Now, complaints about sleeplessness from psychological distress are increasing.

“We would like to help improve the environment (of the shelter) as well,” a staff member said.

Compounding the psychological stress is the lack of bathing facilities at the evacuation center.

A shuttle bus service takes evacuees from the school to a makeshift bath house several kilometers away. But there are only two buses available in the early evening with a limited passenger capacity, so not everyone can clean up.

“It is really hard that I cannot take a bath every day,” said Tadahito Ishii, 75, letting out a weary laugh on July 14.

Ishii is still trying to clean up his flood-hit home. Often, by the time he returns to the center with his trousers caked in mud, the last bus to the bath house for the day has already left.

Ishii owns two cars, but both are now unusable because they were inundated at his home.

“There is hardly any way to get around here without a personal car,” Ishii said. “For today, I can only just clean my body with a cloth.”