Tokyo: When torrential rain flooded his scenic neighbourhood in western Japan, Kentaro Oishi had no hesitation: he jumped in the inflatable normally used for taking tourists white-water rafting and paddled off to rescue stranded locals.
The 50-year-old and his three fellow rafters, who usually take holidaymakers on a white-knuckle ride down the Kuma River, found themselves paddling through dirt waters that submerged their district after the river broke its banks.
“I got an emergency call from the city’s disaster management office for help… as they thought we would be the first ones to get there,” said Oishi, who heads the rafting association in Hitoyoshi City.
Several days of heavy rain in Japan’s southwestern Kyushu island have left dozens dead and turned low-lying areas like Hitoyoshi into a ghost town overnight. “I have 20 years of rafting experience, but I never dreamed” of rowing the boat through the city, according to the veteran paddler.
The four rafters often had to disembark and walk the raft carefully against the onrushing muddy water to avoid capsizing and tipping terrified residents aboard. But they managed to rescue some 40 residents. “We usually help tourists from outside the city enjoy rafting, but this time we could help local people survive,” he said. “I’m grateful that local residents can now be aware what contribution rafting can make to the community,” he said.