I’m writing this post by hot-spotting the data from my phone to my laptop, in my car, which I’ve parked in one of the few areas in the town with a connection. This post isn’t going to be my best and I’m sure it’s going to be full of typos and it’s lacking images, so apologies in advance, but I just wanted to give everyone an update.
COVID-19 is still in full swing around the world, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping the wrath of the Gods. Since the weekend, the heavens have opened and the island of Kyushu has been literally drowning in the downpour. It’s been called a ‘once-in decades deluge’. Kagoshima prefecture and my own Kumamoto have been hardest hit, and the damage is closer to home than I would ever have imagined.
From Friday night through to Saturday morning my phone was screaming alerts in Japanese. My slightly drunken/ post-farewell-party-drinking mind was disorientated, to say the least. I hardly slept and instead lay in bed, half-awake/half-asleep and completely confused.
The town announcements echoed around the mountain as an eerie whisper that I couldn’t understand. The alerts were saying we should evacuate but, as the evacuation point is pretty close to my house and the only way to get there was walking due to drinking, I decided to stay at home.
Living in the mountains means that I’m safe from flood risks, but at high risk of landslides- a consequence of heavy rain that I’d never given much thought until coming to Japan.
The rain stopped for a little on Saturday and I used that time to get prepared. I walked around the area to check the damage. There were some paths completely blocked by a landslide and the Kuma River looked angry.
I also threw together a getaway bag and secured my important items (passport, flight ticket home and residence card). While I was preparing; Hitoyoshi City, Kuma Village, and many other towns and village in my region were flooding.
Hitoyoshi City, for anyone who doesn’t know, is about 20 minutes from me and is my closest ‘city’. It’s where I go for shopping, to see friends, when I need to get on the highway for travel, to learn tea ceremony, do zazen, volunteer at homework club… It’s a place that’s full of memories and people that I care about.
I’d been unable to contact people due to the internet being cut off and my data becoming temperamental, so it was difficult to update loved ones and check in on friends. After much trial and error, I managed to find a weak signal in my kitchen (smushed right up to the fridge with my phone lifted up like Simba). It’s then, when I could access messages, news and social media, that the reality of the situation hit hard.
Friends’ houses and businesses had been completely destroyed, public transportation has stopped and in some areas, clean water and electricity have been cut off. Some people are unable to contact police and ambulance services.
So far, at least 24 people have been confirmed dead in Kumamoto Prefecture. This is true at 11:30am on 6th July. There are more missing.
This is a situation where you’re deemed lucky for being safe, something that we usually take for granted. So far I have been lucky. I’m unharmed and I’ve been able to message my friends in those affected areas and find them safe, but they are totally overwhelmed.
My friend wrote on his social media:
‘I need to clean up but my body and heart are tired’
So many areas have been affected and continue to be. The rain is still pouring and I’m worried about the rising water levels of my own town’s proudest feature- the Kuma River. It’s this river that burst in Hitoyoshi and could do the same in Asagiri.
People are buying food and bottled water. One area of my town no longer has access to clean water. Aid is being sent with helicopters to people living in the mountains who have no access to food or water in Kuma Village.
Right now I’m in shock and so this post isn’t the most comprehensive. It’s just a way to inform everyone as quickly as possible about the current situation. Tonight, we might be required to stay at the Board of Education for safety. I have food, water and some extra clothes, everything else is a luxury. I’m safe and, like so many others, I’m in survival mode.
I’m so sorry to those people who haven’t been as fortunate and I hope if you need aid, that it comes as quickly as possible. I hope that you find a place where you can wait out the rainfall in safety and when it’s time to repair, I hope that you keep your spirits. While I’m here I’m willing to offer any support I can.
This experience is a reminder to me that things can always get worse and, as I mentioned in my 23 lessons post, nothing is guaranteed. My gratitude list has been bursting at the seams with things that I usually take for granted- like my house being intact, my friends being alive and having access to food and water. Even now, the situation could get worse and all we can do is prepare.
This town is resilient and the community is unbreakable. I know we’ll get through whatever is thrown at us. I’m just hoping that we don’t have to. There will be a lot of healing to do, long after the waters recede.
And for those who don’t believe in climate change or don’t believe in it enough to change your behaviour- this is the evidence and the result. These disasters are happening more and more frequently and people are dying. They’re losing family members, friends, home, businesses and their ways of life. If nothing else, I hope that this post reminds you to start now. Recycle your stuff and educate yourselves on how to heal the planet. I have a long way to go too, so let’s do it together, share inspiration, support and resources.
This might be my last blog post for a while, for obvious reasons, but I’ll try and keep everyone updated on my social media accounts when I can. We’re predicted to have some heavy rain until at least Tuesday. I hope that everyone can hold out until then and that the downpour subsides as quickly as possible.
Right now it’s essential to stay positive,
For non-natives in the area, if you don’t already, please follow Kumamoto International for useful updates and information!