Mayor links solar plant construction to floods

Mayor links solar plant construction to floods

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI, JIJI, Staff Report

The mayor of Bando has blamed a huge solar power plant project near the Kinugawa River for exacerbating the disastrous flooding in Joso, Ibaraki Prefecture, by shaving off the top of a natural sandbank that had effectively become part of its east bank.

The removal of the layer of sand lowered the height of the embankment, which is in the Wakamiyado district, Bando Mayor Eiichi Yoshihara indicated. Bando is situated next to Joso.

Yoshihara made the remark during a meeting Friday with the central government’s research group on the flooding disaster. He urged the government to give the voices of local residents greater consideration when giving the green light to construction projects.

“I’m speaking on behalf of Joso,” Yoshihara said while displaying before and after photos of the devastated area.

Minutes from a Joso Municipal Assembly meeting last year state that a portion of the embankment about 150 meters wide and 2 meters high had been scraped off the top for the solar power project.

According to the land ministry, the sand embankment, which is private property, formed over time from sand and gravel carried down the river. Residents say it served as a natural riverbank, as opposed to the man-made levees.

Feeling the embankment had been compromised, officials in the city of Joso made several requests to the land ministry asking it to build a formal levee. The embankment, about 5 km upstream from the spot where a levee collapsed Thursday, was overwhelmed by the swollen river, flooding communities alongside it.

In July 2014, in response to the levee requests, the ministry deposited giant sandbags at the embankment after getting permission from the landowner.

“(The government) has no responsibility over how private property is changed,” a ministry official said. “We cannot be sure that is what caused the flood.”

How high the embankment was originally and how high the sandbags were piled remains unclear.

“Local residents have cherished the sand embankment as a way to prevent flooding,” said a man, 47, who lives near the site. “Even if it’s private property, local tradition that the community has protected should be respected.”

Rescue operations continued Saturday for more than 100 people still stranded in Joso, and 15 people remained missing.

In Kurihara, Miyagi Prefecture, a body was found Saturday at a river, raising the death toll to four.

“I felt more dead than alive,” said a man who was rescued Saturday morning after spending days trapped in his home.

“I lived by drinking tea as there was no food. I’m so glad that they came to rescue me,” he told NHK.

As the water began to recede, police officers wearing life vests shoved poles into the thick mud to locate any victims.

“The city is completely destroyed — we need people’s help,” said Shinichi Ishizuka, 47.

On Saturday morning, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the disaster-hit city some 60 km northeast of Tokyo, as some 2,000 troops, police and firefighters worked to rescue people trapped in water-logged buildings. Most were patients and hospital staff, local media reported.

“We’re doing our best to make things safe by reconstructing the broken (river) bank as quickly as possible to prevent a repeat of this disaster,” Abe told reporters.

As the skies cleared, water levels began to return to normal in the river after the heaviest rain in years pounded the country in the wake of Typhoon Etau.

“We are working hard to rescue people trapped in buildings and find those who still are unaccounted for, while pumping out water,” a local government official said. “But water levels are still high in many areas so that has hampered our operations.”

The number of missing in Joso declined from 22 to 15 after police found more victims alive, including a pair of 8-year-olds. It was not immediately clear where the children were found, but some of the missing appeared to have been among those trapped in flooded buildings.

People and houses were not the only ones swept away by the flood.

Bags filled with radiation-tainted grass and soil from cleanup work near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant were swept away in the flooding of rivers in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, the Environment Ministry said.

A total of 82 of the bags were discovered, with 37 of them recovered Friday, though it remained unclear how many had been washed away, the ministry said.