15 missing in flooding found safe

JOSO, Ibaraki - Fifteen people reported missing after record torrential rain here caused the Kinugawa river to breach its banks have been found alive and safe, local prefectural government authorities said Tuesday.

The Ibaraki prefectural government's disaster countermeasures headquarters also said that the bodies of two men found in flooded areas Sunday were not counted among those whose whereabouts were unknown.

Ibaraki prefectural police and the Self-Defence Forces are continuing search operations in the city, where many areas are still inundated.

According to the prefectural government, police contacted some of the 15 missing using a restored phone line. The others had returned home after some of the flooding subsided, where their safety was confirmed.

The prefectural government was informed by police that the number of missing people dropped to six at around 5 p.m. Monday, and received an update at around 8 p.m. that five more were confirmed to be alive. The report was only shared among some senior officials at the disaster headquarters. The city government did not get the news until Tuesday morning.

The disaster headquarters considers people missing if their whereabouts are unknown after they or their family members have requested help. The only information made public is the number of missing, their names, gender and age.

The Geospatial Information Authority of Japan reported that about 10 square kilometers of Joso was still inundated as of 9:30 a.m. Monday - nearly the same size as Tokyo's Taito Ward. The flooded area shrank to about a third of that size on Friday, thanks to a range of efforts including pump drainage operations by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.

Why the delay?

Toyoaki Tanaka, chief of Ibaraki prefectural crisis management and disaster prevention, held a press conference at the prefectural government building on Tuesday morning to explain his failure to give status updates to the Joso city government about the residents reported missing.

"I didn't think that reports were necessary," Tanaka said.

The city's disaster headquarters had not announced the details of the individuals whose safety couldn't be confirmed, including their names, gender and age.

The city's headquarters first informed Ibaraki prefectural police of the information it had obtained from the public. Police then cross-checked it with information they already had for those who were said to be missing, before reporting back to the headquarters with any overlapping information.

The headquarters then used the police report to announce an official number of missing people.

"If we were informed of the names of the missing, they could've gathered information easily, and it wouldn't have taken this much time to identify them," a restaurant manager said. "There were probably other ways to handle it."