Death toll climbs to 76 as heavy rains hammer southern Japan

“A situation of extreme danger,” says meteorological agency; landslides hit houses, rivers burst banks

Heavy rainfall hammered southern Japan for the third day, prompting new disaster warnings on Kyushu and Shikoku islands on Sunday, as the government put the death toll at 48 with 28 others presumed dead.

Rivers burst their banks and forced several million people from their homes, media reports said, with more rain set to hit some areas for at least another day.

Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said the whereabouts of 92 people are unknown, mostly in the southern area of Hiroshima prefecture.

More than 100 reports of casualties had been received, such as cars being swept away, he said. Some 40 helicopters were out on rescue missions.

“Rescue efforts are a battle with time,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters. “The rescue teams are doing their utmost.”

The Japan Meteorological Agency said three hours of rainfall in one area in Kochi prefecture reached an accumulated 26.3 centimetres (10.4 inches), the highest since such records started in 1976.

“We’ve never experienced this kind of rain before,” an official at the Japanese Meteorological Agency [JMA] told a news conference. “This is a situation of extreme danger.”

The assessment of casualties has been difficult because of the widespread area affected by the rainfall, flooding and landslides. Authorities warned landslides could strike even after rain subsides as the calamity shaped up to be potentially the worst in decades.

An overturned car remains on a street after heavy rain in Ozu, Ehime Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on July 8, 2018.

An overturned car remains on a street after heavy rain in Ozu, Ehime Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on July 8, 2018.
 
| Photo Credit:
Kyodo/ via Reuters

Kochi prefecture, on Shikoku, issued landslide warnings almost over the entire island. Public broadcaster NHK TV showed overturned cars on roads covered with mud. A convenience store worker, who had fled to a nearby rooftop, said water had reached as high as his head.

The Japanese government set up an emergency office, designed for crises such as major earthquakes.

A residential area in Okayama prefecture, on the main island of Honshu, was seeped in brown water spreading like a huge lake. Some people fled to rooftops and balconies and waved furiously at hovering rescue helicopters. Military paddle boats were also being used to take people to dry land.

Okayama prefecture said three people had died, six others were missing and seven were injured, one of them seriously Six homes were destroyed, while nearly 500 were flooded. Evacuation orders or advisories were issued to more than 9,10,000 people, the prefecture said in a statement.

Kyodo news service reported several deaths in a landslide in Hiroshima and more bodies were retrieved from collapsed housing in the ancient capital of Kyoto, both areas where the rainfall was heavy in the past few days.

Throughout the hard hit areas, rivers swelled and parked cars sat in pools of water. Japan has sent troops, firefighters, police and other disaster relief. People have also taken to social media to plead for help.

In Ehime prefecture, a woman was found dead on the second floor of a home buried by a landslide, Kyodo said. Also in Ehime, two elementary schoolgirls and their mother who got sucked into a mudslide were pulled out but could not be revived, it said.

‘Pouring down’

“All I have is what I’m wearing,” a rescued woman clutching a toy poodle told NHK television.

“We had fled to the second floor but then the water rose more, so we went up to the third floor,” she said.

Evacuation orders remained in place for some 2 million people and another 2.3 million were advised to evacuate, although rain had stopped and floodwaters receded in some areas. Landslide warnings were issued in more than a quarter of the nation’s prefectures.

“My husband couldn’t make it home from work since the road was flooded, and since it was pouring down rain I didn’t have enough courage to walk to an evacuation centre with two infants after dark,” one woman wrote on Twitter, without giving further details.

The rain began late last week as the remnants of a typhoon fed into a seasonal rainy front, with humid, warm air pouring in from the Pacific making it still more active — a pattern similar to one that set off flooding in southwestern Japan exactly a year ago that killed dozens. The front then remained in one place for an unusually long time, the JMA said.

An elderly man in a wheelchair is rescued from a flooded area in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on July 8, 2018.

An elderly man in a wheelchair is rescued from a flooded area in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on July 8, 2018.  
| Photo Credit:
Kyodo/ via Reuters

 

Roads were closed and train services suspended in parts of western Japan. Shinkansen bullet train services, resumed on a limited schedule after they were suspended on Friday.

Automakers including Mazda Motor Corp. and Daihatsu Diesel Manufacturing Co. suspended operations at several plants on Saturday due to a shortage of parts or dangerous conditions. They were set to decide later on Sunday on plans for the coming week.

Electronics maker Panasonic Corp. said one plant in Okayama, western Japan, could not be reached due to road closures, although it had been closed for the weekend anyway. A decision about next week would be made on Monday.

While the Japanese government monitors weather conditions closely and issues warnings from an early stage, the fact that much of the country outside major cities is mountainous and building takes place on virtually every bit of usable land leaves it vulnerable to disasters.

Reforestation policies after World War II that saw many mountains logged and replanted with trees whose roots are less able to retain water have also contributed to the danger.

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