Photo/IllutrationA huge volume of water was released from the Nomura dam, foreground, causing flooding in Seiyo city, background. (Kengo Hiyoshi)

  • Photo/Illustraion

SEIYO, Ehime Prefecture--Emotions ran high as residents here gathered to demand an explanation for why water was released from a dam that led to five people being killed and 650 homes being flooded last month.

The Aug. 9 meeting in a local auditorium filled to capacity was held to inform local residents about the decision to release the water from the Nomura dam that came close to overflowing in early July when torrential rain hit large swathes of western Japan.

Seiyo Mayor Kazuo Kanke was in attendance along with Koji Kawanishi, the manager in charge of the dam.

A member of the audience yelled, "It's your fault," when a moment of silence was observed for those who perished in the flooding, vocalizing the anger felt in the community.

About 700 residents from the Nomura district attended the meeting and were told that the emergency release of water began at 6:20 a.m. on July 7.

One rule concerning the dam is to increase the amount of water released to 300 tons a second when it is close to capacity. However, on July 7, the maximum volume of water released was 1,797 tons a second, about six times the figure set out in the rule.

The water flowed down the Hijikawa river, which could not cope with the volume, as its limit is 1,000 tons a second without flooding the Nomura district.

Kawanishi explained that about 6 million tons had been released before the torrential rain to allow it to take in more rainfall, but he said that the subsequent volume of rain and amount of water that flowed into the dam were beyond anyone's imagination. He explained that the unprecedented volume of water made an emergency release unavoidable.

A panel, including experts, set up by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, has been evaluating the release of the water, and some members pointed out that local residents were not sufficiently informed about the dangers associated with the emergency release.

Kawanishi indicated that in the future, announcements from the dam office will include wording that heightens the sense of danger and calls on residents "to take action immediately to protect your lives."

In a subsequent question-and-answer session, many residents voiced anger at the decisions made by officials in both the city government and land ministry office.

One male resident said, "I thought there would be no problem because the dam was there. The damage would have been smaller if a slower release of water was conducted."

Audience members applauded when he continued, "While there were aspects of a natural disaster, this was also a case of a man-made disaster."

A woman said angrily, "Whether we live or die is completely in the decisions that you make. Have you ever experienced having to clean out the dirt that has flooded into your home?"

A land ministry official said the dam operators followed regulations, but added future measures about dealing with unprecedented torrential rain would be considered by an evaluation panel.

Criticism was also directed at the city's evacuation order, which was issued at 5:10 a.m., 70 minutes before the emergency release of water from the dam. Some of those who died were elderly residents who required assistance to evacuate.

"We will review our disaster management structure after hearing the opinions of citizens and improve the evacuation measures one by one," Kanke said.

Yoshihiko Irie, 59, was one of the Nomura district residents who died in the flooding. His widow said at the meeting that not enough time had been set between the evacuation order and the release of the water, leading her husband to die without being aware of the decision taken at the dam.

Kanke apologized and said the comment would be taken into consideration when revising evacuation measures.

Under the new plan, evacuation orders will be issued once city officials are aware of when the emergency release of water will begin.

A similar meeting will be held in Ozu in the prefecture. The Hijikawa river also flooded in the city when water was released from the Kanogawa dam.

(This article was written by Akira Hatano and Yosuke Okawa.)