Death toll climbs as Japan scrambles to rescue flood victims
Saka — The death toll from record rains that have devastated parts of Japan rose on Sunday to at least 81, officials said, as rescue workers and troops struggled in the mud and water to save lives.
The toll is expected to rise significantly, with dozens of people still unaccounted for in the disaster. More than 2,000 temporarily stranded in the city of Kurashiki, were rescued.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned of a "race against time" to rescue flood victims, some of whom have resorted to tweeting desperate messages seeking help from emergency services.
The torrential downpours have caused flash flooding and landslides across central and western Japan, with some villages engulfed by rising waters, and trapped residents taking shelter on their rooftops as floods swirl below.
More than 2-million people have been told to evacuate, but the orders are not mandatory and many remained at home, becoming trapped by rapidly rising water or landslides.
The meteorological agency issued new alerts, while lifting the warning level in other regions where rain was subsiding. But it also cautioned residents that even where downpours were over, the heavy rains had loosened earth, meaning that the risk of landslides remained high.
In the town of Mihara, in the south of the Hiroshima region, a let-up in the rain laid bare the devastation wrought by the downpours. Roads were transformed into muddy flowing rivers, with dirt piled up on either side as flood water gushed around the wheels of stranded cars.
"The area became an ocean," said Nobue Kakumoto, a long-time resident. "I’m worried because I have no idea how long it will stay like this."
Several dozen residents descended into the village to inspect the damage after spending the night in a tiny shelter on higher ground.
In the town of Saka, also in Hiroshima prefecture, Eiichi Tsuiki evacuated to the top floor of his house as rising waters washed away cars outside.
"I’ve lived here for 40 years … I’ve never seen this before," the oyster farmer said. Later, as he walked around to inspect his neighbourhood, he saw many houses with the doors open, suggesting that residents had evacuated in a panic, he said.
Elsewhere, work crews tried to clear multiple small landslides that coated roads, rendering them virtually impassable.
"We are carrying out rescue operations around the clock," Yoshihide Fujitani, a disaster management official in Hiroshima prefecture, said.
The disaster is the deadliest rain-related crisis in the country since 2014, when at least 74 people were killed.