TOKYO – Residents and volunteers from various parts of Japan began working together Saturday to clean up muddied houses and restore life to normal in areas in Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures devastated by Typhoon No. 23.

In a show of gratitude to volunteers who helped rebuild life in Kobe after the Great Hanshin Earthquake, volunteers from Kobe have rushed to devastated areas to provide assistance on the first weekend after the typhoon.

On Saturday morning, 18 students from Hyogo Prefectural Maiko High School in Tarumi Ward, Kobe, arrived in Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture – the site where the Maruyamagawa river burst its banks. The students arrived in the area after a 3 1/2 hour bus ride in a minibus provided by the Osada Volunteer Center.

The students are taking an environmental awareness and disaster prevention course established by the school in the 2002 academic year after it saw a need for students to study volunteer activities in light of the devastation left by the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

Most students on the course lived through that earthquake and know first-hand what it is like in the aftermath of a natural disaster. They voluntarily stepped forward to help people in the affected areas.

Second-year student Genta Nakano, 17, who also participated in efforts to help people in Fukui Prefecture stricken by floods in July, said he could not believe Toyooka had been damaged so badly.

“I learned from my experience in Fukui that I could help people. So I want to go to help (Toyooka),” he said.

Another second-year student, Natsuko Kaneda, 16, said that because volunteers had helped people in Kobe after the earthquake, it was her turn to help others.

First-year student Tomoya Matsuo, 16, said he was nervous because this was the first time he had been in a disaster area.

“One person can’t do much, but volunteers working together can be helpful to victims,” he said.

Seven members of the Fukui Saigai (Disaster) Volunteer Network, a nonprofit organization established in June last year in Fukui Prefecture, went to Maizuru and Miyazu, Kyoto Prefecture, to help establish volunteer centers there.

A network official said many volunteers from Kyoto helped residents in Fukui after the torrential rains in July, adding that volunteers from Fukui would work hard to – repay the people of Kyoto for their help.

Three network volunteers, including network Chairman Kazuhito Matsumori, 44, arrived in Miyazu on a 4-ton truck carrying various materials, including shovels, buckets and antiseptic solution.

Matsumori told volunteers that even items that appeared to be unsalvageable could still have sentimental value for owners. “When sorting out garbage, you should spend time carefully determining whether it should be disposed of,” he said.

About 70 volunteers went to work removing mud that had swamped houses in Tamano, Okayama Prefecture, where five peopled died in landslides.

The volunteers are members of a club of elderly people, high school students, students at vocational schools and company employees in the city who answered a call for help by the city’s social welfare council.

The volunteers arrived on the scene at 9:30 a.m. in minibuses supplied by the council. Wearing stickers identifying them as volunteers conducting relief work for Tamano City, they began work as soon as they arrived.

Takashi Shiroi, 26, unemployed, drove for five hours from his house in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, to join the work in Tamano. “My house was destroyed in the Great Hanshin Earthquake so I know how painful it is (for people hit by the flood). Volunteers helped me, so I’ve to come to help them,” he said.

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