TOKYO (AFP) - Record rainfall devastated parts of Japan on
Saturday, killing at least 30 people, as homes disappeared beneath floodwaters
and landslides, and authorities ordered over 1.9 million evacuations.
The unprecedented downpours have wreaked havoc primarily in the west of the
country, with flash floods and landslides leaving dozens more missing in
addition to those killed.
A local official in Ehime, in western Japan, said the toll in his area had
jumped from six to 16, bringing the official national fatality figure to at
least 30 dead since the massive rains began Thursday.
But that figure was expected to rise further, with public broadcaster NHK
saying the toll was at 49.
"The number of casualties is expected to increase as we are still in the
middle of collecting information," Yoshinobu Katsuura, a disaster
management official of Ehime prefecture, told AFP.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned "the situation is extremely serious"
and ordered his government to "make an all-out effort" to rescue
The floods have blanketed entire villages, submerging streets up to roof level.
In some places, just the top of traffic lights could be seen above the rising
"My house was simply washed away and completely destroyed," Toshihide
Takigawa, a 35-year-old employee at a gas station in Hiroshima, told the Nikkei
"I was in a car and massive floods of water gushed towards me from the
front and back and then engulfed the road. I was just able to escape, but I was
terrified," 62-year-old Yuzo Hori told the Mainichi Shimbun daily in
Authorities have issued their highest level of alert for the rains and ordered
more than 1.9 million people to evacuate their homes, mostly in western Japan.
But the orders are not mandatory, and many people have become trapped inside
homes that were engulfed by floodwaters or hit by landslides.
- 'Rescue us quickly' -
The deadly rains began earlier in the week, claiming their first victim on
Thursday when a construction worker was swept away by floodwaters in Hyogo
prefecture in western Japan.
The toll has risen steadily since then, with many of those reported missing
later confirmed dead.
The victims included a man in his sixties whose body was found near a bridge in
Hiroshima on Saturday. Another man was killed in the same region when a
mudslide struck his house, a local government official said.
The conditions hampered rescue operations, with some desperate citizens taking
to Twitter to call for help.
"Water came to the middle of the second floor," a woman in Kurashiki,
Okayama wrote, posting a picture of her room half swamped by flooding.
"The kids could not climb up to the rooftop," she said. "My body
temperature has lowered. Rescue us quickly. help us."
In Okayama region, residents were sitting on top of their homes waiting for
help as the rainwater swirled below. Helicopters were being flown over several
affected areas to help airlift those affected to safety.
In Hiroshima, a wooden bridge was washed away entirely by a rain-swollen river
and rescuers dug through the dirt as landslides crushed houses in the same
The government has deployed nearly 50,000 troops, police and firefighters for
rescue operations, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said another 21,000 troops were on stand-by,
adding: "I instructed them to carry out rescue operations by using every
possible means of land-sea-and-air forces."
Several major manufacturers, including carmakers Daihatsu and Mitsubishi, said
they had suspended operations at plants in the affected areas, Kyodo news
Japan's Meteorological Agency has issued warnings at the highest level of its
alert system -- only issued when the amount of rain is expected to be the
highest in decades -- for large parts of western Japan.
By Saturday night, the agency had begun lifting its warnings in part of the
country, though its officials told reporters heavy rain was forecast to
continue until Sunday in western and eastern Japan.