Landslides and debris flows strike Kyushu, Japan



On 20 July 2003, several damaging landslides and debris flows in southern Kyushu, Japan, attracted international attention and resulted in one of the most major natural disasters of recent years. Large amounts of rain fell on 19 and 20 July as a Baiu front passing over the Sea of Japan met a high-pressure zone moving up from the southeast over the Pacific Ocean. Altogether, 21 lives were lost due to the sediment disasters, and more than 240 homes were either damaged or destroyed by landslides, debris flows, and flooding. Nevertheless, such natural disasters occur frequently in Japan. In summer 1993, 121 people were killed by landslides and debris flows within an area of unwelded pyroclastic flow deposits (known as Shirasu) in the Kagoshima Bay area of Kyushu. Thus, local residents generally acknowledge their potential exposure to these hazards, but risk and vulnerability issues may be clouded by inadequate warnings and scientific knowledge, socio-economic factors, and the general feeling that local and national governments are overly protective.