At around 10:30, on Saturday 3 July, the Japanese coastal resort of Atami was rushed by a deadly landslide. After three days of continuous rain officials were in the process of evacuating the town when a torrent of mud swept down the hill. As a witness told the news outlet AFP: “The big electricity pylons here were shaking all over the place and no sooner had I wondered what was going on than the mudslides were already there”.
By the time masses of earth had completed a descent of around 2 Kilometres through the settlement and into the sea, 130 buildings had been partially or completely destroyed. Initial reports had announced 147 people missing and then around 80 as officials accounted for those already evacuated.
Now almost two weeks later, whilst over 600 residents remain in temporary evacuation centres, a rescue force of 1,700 have confirmed nine deaths. In adverse conditions, including temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius and additional landslides, the search continues for 17 people who remain missing.
As for the cause of this disaster, deforestation, development, and industrial waste dumping had all occurred uphill. Yet, the prefecture’s governor Heita Kawakatsu and vice-governor Namba Takashi have recently indicated that a landfill with inadequate drainage systems is likely responsible.
Sixty miles southwest of Tokyo in the Shizuoka prefecture, Atami is in a region which has faced increasing concerns about rain-related incidents. Hundreds of thousands have been evacuated in southern Honshu. In 2018, 200 people died in flooded regions of western Japan whilst last year over 76,000 residents were evacuated.
Though in the midst of a less familiar battle with COVID-19 and due shortly to host the Olympic games, with continuing rain forecasted, Japan will perhaps be glancing at the heavens and the hills for the meantime.