Photo/IllutrationEvacuees fill a school gymnasium in Nagano on Oct. 13 after Typhoon No. 19 caused flooding at many locations in the area. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Ferocious Typhoon No. 19, which dumped record-breaking rain and caused massive flooding in wide areas in eastern Japan, has forced many people to take refuge in evacuation centers and other places.

There were some 4,000 evacuees in 13 prefectures as of the morning of Oct. 16.

Most of them have to sleep on the floor of a school gym, with no partitions to protect their privacy. There are concerns that their dismal living conditions could lead to serious health problems as winter is approaching.

The living conditions at emergency evacuation centers should be improved as quickly as possible to protect the health of evacuees.

The central and local governments need to ensure that they receive sufficient relief supplies, such as cardboard beds, blankets and hot, wholesome meals, soliciting help from private groups to boost the effectiveness of public support to disaster victims.

Besides the importance of effective relief aid, there are many other issues that need to be addressed.

One is the overall capacity of emergency evacuation facilities.

In the latest disaster, many evacuation centers have been overwhelmed by a flood of evacuees that surpassed their capacity, failing to provide refuge to a large number of people fleeing from their homes and seeking safety.

In Tokyo, where more than 80,000 people sought refuge at about 1,000 facilities, as well as in Chiba Prefecture and the northeastern Tohoku region, which were battered by Typhoon No. 15 in early September, many local residents were forced to sleep in their cars or move to distant evacuation sites.

This problem also drew attention during the spell of torrential rain in southern parts of Kyushu in July and the severe rain disaster that struck western Japan last year.

It is dangerous to travel around amid heavy rain. Each local government should reassess its estimates of the numbers of evacuees during floods and review its evacuation support system accordingly.

The city of Komae, Tokyo, which is located on the left banks of the Tamagawa river, had to increase the number of evacuation centers to 11, eventually, from the original one as the ranks of evacuees swelled to nearly 4,000.

The municipal government says it will explore possibilities of using commercial facilities to give refuge to people.

Some local governments have agreements with local universities to use their facilities during emergencies.

The private-sector operators of such commercial facilities as shopping malls and movie theaters should provide active support to such efforts.

One notable trend underlying the shortage of evacuation facilities is that a growing number of local governments are issuing evacuation orders and advisories on ever-larger scales.

Local governments should not be criticized for playing it safe with a willingness to err on the side of caution when there are realistic risks of a breach in the banks of a river, causing large-scale flooding in wide areas.

But local governments should be aware of the fact that information concerning disaster risks is more effective and helpful for people when it is more specific and based on data about the distinguishing geographical and other features of each area.

Local residents, for their part, should consider where they can take refuge in such emergencies if the designated evacuation center cannot accept them.

Risks differ from area to area and there are cases where staying at home is safer than going out to seek refuge in other places in response to an evacuation order.

It would be important for residents to carefully weigh the risk of their homes being flooded or hit by a landslide. It would be wise for them to consider in advance various ways to escape from such risks.

They can, for example, go upstairs in their own houses or take refuge in the second or higher floor of nearby houses or relatives’ houses in other areas.

Regrettably, there has been a case where local government employees behaved in a way that shows a lack of understanding about the roles of evacuation centers.

Tokyo’s Taito Ward refused to accept a homeless man seeking refuge in an elementary school it designates as a site for voluntary evacuees on the grounds that he had no registered address.

After the decision was criticized, the municipal government apologized. But such a misguided action during a disaster could lead to a death.

Local governments should understand that evacuation centers should be open to all people including foreigners.

In serious disasters, the spirit of mutual help is all the more vital for saving lives.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 17