Death toll reaches 119 after historic downpour and landslides in Japan


OSAKA – The death toll from torrential rains in western Japan reached 119 on Monday, and many people were still missing after massive flooding and landslides destroyed homes and displaced tens of thousands of people. Rescuers are searching for nearly 80 people who are still accounted for, most of them in the hardest-hit Hiroshima area while the Meteorological Agency warned that landslides and flooding continue to pose a danger. Nearly 13,000 people have been left without electricity, power companies said on Monday, while hundreds of thousands had no water. It is the worst flood disaster since 1983, when 117 people were killed in heavy rains.

Though continuous rain had ended, officials warned of sudden showers and thunderstorms as well as the risk of further landslides on steep mountainsides saturated over the weekend. Some homes had been smashed, while others were left tilting precariously. Rivers had overflowed, flooding towns and turning them into lakes, leaving dozens of people stranded on rooftops. Military paddle boats and helicopters have been used to bring people to dry land. 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. The number of casualties is expected to rise further as officials assess the damage in affected areas. Many people are believed to be stranded in their homes where roads have been cut off by the flooding. At one point, evacuation orders or advisories were issued for up to 5.9 million people in 19 prefectures. As of Monday morning, around 23,000 people were staying in evacuation centers, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a meeting of a special disaster response unit that the number of personnel helping out had been boosted to 73,000 and that they were “putting in utmost efforts to save lives.”

In Okayama Prefecture, one of the hardest-hit areas, more than 1,000 people were temporarily trapped on the roofs of buildings that had been submerged by floods following the bursting of three dikes along the nearby Oda River. Most of them were rescued by boats or helicopters. In the Mabicho area in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, about 1,200 hectares, or one-third of the district, was submerged. About 4,600 homes were inundated in the area, displacing about 3,000 to 5,000 residents. All patients and staff stranded in a hospital in Mabicho were rescued early Monday. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism mobilized pumper trucks to drain the inundated area, but it is likely to take about two weeks to complete the drainage. In neighboring Hiroshima Prefecture, one of 12 people who went missing after being engulfed by landslides in the town of Kumano was found dead. The body of a 3-year-old girl was discovered in the city of Fukuyama after she was washed away from her home following the collapse of a reservoir. Casualties were reported in Yamaguchi, Kyoto, Gifu, Shiga, Hyogo, Kochi, Fukuoka and Kagoshima prefectures. About 267,000 homes had suffered water outages in 11 prefectures as of Sunday. Roads were also damaged and flooded across the region and many railway sections remain disrupted.

According to the transport ministry, 13 railroad operators were suspending services on 37 routes in western Japan and elsewhere. Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has cancelled an overseas trip which would have taken him to Belgium, France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt from Wednesday, a party source told Reuters. Prime Minister was arranging visits to areas hit hard by the massive flooding and landslides that began last Thursday, government sources said.