Japan musters huge military response to lethal floods, landslides

Japan musters huge military response to lethal floods, landslides

Felix Kim

Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) mobilized almost 30,000 personnel to deliver lifesaving supplies and help local authorities rescue people from catastrophic floods and landslides that killed 200 people and forced the evacuation of 2 million more in the first week of July 2018.

Hiroshima, Okayama and Ehime prefectures received the brunt of the punishing rainfall, reported Kyodo News. The rains broke all records for a 72-hour period, and residents trapped in the flooding found themselves cut off from transportation, electricity, food and drinking water.

“We have boosted disaster relief to approximately 29,500 active personnel from the GSDF [Ground Self-Defense Force], Maritime Self-Defense Force and Air Self-Defense Force,” Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said, “as well as 38 aircraft and 13 ships, which are now engaged in disaster deployment activities.”

Onodera spoke with reporters on July 10, 2018, from the Ministry of Defense in Tokyo.

About 300 liaison officers from the ministry and SDF deployed to 74 sites to work with local governments.

“The SDF carried out rescue activities for missing persons in the landslide in Onomichi City of Hiroshima prefecture,” he said, “transported supplies at Matsuyama Airport of Ehime prefecture, provided water supply assistance using transport ships in Kure City of Hiroshima prefecture, and provided transportation between Etajima and Kure cities in order to provide bathing facilities in Kure City of Hiroshima prefecture.”

The transport ship Shimokita carried tanker trucks from Hiroshima City to affected areas in the Kure district, which suffered from fuel and food shortages. Onodera added that 24,000 loaves of bread were airlifted from Hiroshima City to Kure City by helicopter.

These efforts were another chapter in the storied history of the Japanese military’s responses to disasters in the archipelago, according to a ministry document on disaster relief.

When disasters occur, the document explains, the SDF responds in any part of the country, in collaboration with municipal governments. Its efforts include “the search for and rescue of disaster victims, missing ships or aircraft, controlling floods, offering medical treatment, preventing epidemics, supplying water, and transporting personnel and goods.” (Pictured: Japan Self-Defense Force Soldiers rescue people from a flooded area in Okayama prefecture.)

Typically, the Defense Ministry responds to requests from prefectural governors and other officials, who assume primary responsibility for disaster response in their jurisdictions, by dispatching units to respond to weather events, fires, earthquakes or nuclear disasters.

“The SDF carries out various disaster prevention drills including joint exercises for rescue,” said the ministry document, “in addition to formulating disaster relief plans. The SDF also actively participates in local government disaster prevention drills and is seeking to ensure cooperation with various ministries and agencies.”

Despite the tragic consequences of the July rains, Onodera said he was satisfied with the SDF’s work. “On my part, I do not think there were any particular problems with this series of responses,” he said. The ministry “and SDF will continue to rescue lives and to put all effort into providing close and precise support for the daily lives of victims who have no choice but to live in evacuation shelters.”

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.