People and houses swept away by flash floods in southern Japan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 11:54am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 11:04pm

Rescuers were scrambled on Thursday to reach areas in southern Japan hit by flash flooding, officials said, with at least two people dead, 11 missing and reports of houses swept away after torrential rain caused rivers to burst their banks and triggered landslides after Typhoon Nanmadol swept across Japan earlier in the week. About 400,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, officials and media said.

Emergency personnel were being deployed early in the day following the inundations overnight that caused authorities in Kyushu island and nearby areas to issue emergency evacuation orders to hundreds of thousands of people.

The city of Asakura, Fukuoka prefecture, was among the hardest hit with television footage showing floodwaters surging through the streets.

“We are hearing of around six to seven people missing so far. That includes a report of a child seen being swept away,” said Naohisa Ouchida, an official with Asakura city’s disaster management division.

He was not able to confirm any details of those missing, but said authorities had received “many, many” calls from people in distress.

The national broadcaster NHK reported that one man died in neighbouring Oita prefecture, but details were not immediately available.

Another man, a 93-year-old, was thought to have been swept away by flooding, police said. His body was found on Wednesday washed up in Asakita in Hiroshima prefecture.

One man managed a narrow escape when a landslide crushed his home on a steep mountain slope, NHK reported.

Some locals took to Twitter to appeal for rescue. The account @ek2eoiNcRUqmnMI posted: “Please help! Most houses around us have been swept away. Seven of us are trapped on the second floor of a factory.”

Ouchida said city officials had received reports of people cut off by the waters.

“It is very dark outside now so it’s difficult for us to confirm those reports. We are also hearing about houses being swept away and landslides blocking streets,” he said.

More than 50cm of rain deluged parts of Kyushu in 12 hours on Wednesday, prompting the Japan Meteorological Agency to warn of the potential for significant damage.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency said Fukuoka and Oita were experiencing unprecedented amounts of rain.

Tens of thousands of people were instructed to evacuate though only a fraction of those advised to leave actually did, according to the Fukuoda disaster management agency’s website.

It said 1,800 people had sought refuge in schools and other public facilities in Fukuoka as of early Thursday.

About 7,800 troops, police officers and other emergency personnel will carry out search and rescue missions from early on Thursday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

“There are many reports of people whose safety cannot be confirmed, things like ‘a child was swept away by the river’ and ‘my house was swept away and I can’t get in touch with my parents’,” he told an emergency early morning news conference. “We will keep in close contact with the disaster-hit areas and work with all our energy to save lives and ascertain the extent of the damage.”

Several major Japanese companies were forced to suspend or delay operations because of the downpours.

Daihatsu stopped operations at its minicar-manufacturing plant in Nakatsu, Oita prefecture, but is hoping to resume on Friday. The carmaker stopped engine production at its plant in Kurume, Fukuoka prefecture, on Wednesday night.

Japan’s leading parcel delivery company Yamato said its distribution service has been disrupted in areas mainly in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures due to flooding.

Japan Post said delivery of letters and parcels in Fukuoka and Oita could be delayed by up to a day.

Supermarket operator Aeon said deliveries have been delayed to some of its shops in Oita but said outlets are open during regular business hours.

Additional reporting by Associated Press, Kyodo, Reuters