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File photo taken July 3, 2021, shows the site of a large mudslide triggered by torrential rain in the Shizuoka Prefecture city of Atami, southwest of Tokyo. --Photo Kyodo

Survivors sue landowners over deadly July mudslide in central Japan

SHIZUOKA, Japan (Kyodo) -- A total of 70 people on Tuesday filed a damages suit against current and former landowners allegedly involved in land alterations and the creation of a massive soil mound at a mountainside where a mudslide in July killed 26 people in the hot spring report of Atami southwest of Tokyo.
In the lawsuit filed with the Numazu branch of the Shizuoka District Court, the plaintiffs including bereaved family members of the victims and local business operators are seeking 3.2 billion yen (US$28 million) in damages from people and companies involved in managing the land.
“We will take action to ensure that this man-made disaster is never repeated,” said Yuji Seshimo, 53, one of the plaintiffs who lost his mother in the mudslide.
The mudslide hit Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, on the morning of July 3, after days of heavy rain that lashed wide areas of the country, leaving 26 people dead, one missing and destroying 131 homes.
Following the fatal mudslide, local authorities launched an investigation into the cause of the disaster and how the land in question was managed. An estimated 54,000 cubic meters of soil was found to have been brought to the mountain by a real estate management firm in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, possibly exacerbating the damages.
Some 56,000 cubic meters of soil in total, mostly the soil left by the now-defunct company, collapsed into a nearby river, traveling a distance of about 2 kilometers, according to the local authorities.
The Shizuoka prefectural government said the company had reported in 2009 its plan to pile up soil at the site to a height of 15 metres, but the actual height of the soil reached some 50 metres shortly before the mudslide occurred.
Contamination of the soil with industrial waste was found in 2010 and the land owner was subsequently ordered to remove it, according to the prefectural government.
The firm was subject to multiple administrative directions by the prefectural and Atami city governments.
The plaintiffs sued the company, a former executive of the company, the current owner of the land, a real estate company in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward established by the landowner and a company alleged to have delivered soil to the land.
A lawyer for the current landowner told Kyodo News the company established by the defendant has “nothing to do with the case.”
Another defendant, an executive of the liquidated real estate firm which previously owned the land, has said the company never made any improper land alterations at the site.

(Latest Update September 29, 2021)

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