Japan body count rises to at least 82 as ‘historic’ rains continue to unleash massive flooding

An emergency meeting is held in Tokyo as dykes burst, roads are damaged and bridges are swept away. The number of casualties is expected to continue to rise as rescue operations unfold.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 July, 2018, 12:21am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 July, 2018, 7:13am

At least 82 people have died and over 50 remained missing on Sunday after torrential rains triggered massive flooding and landslides in western Japan, with rescue operations continuing in disaster-hit areas.

Rescuers expanded their search for those still missing and stranded, with 54,000 personnel from the police, fire services, the Self-Defence Forces and the Japan Coast Guard now involved.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency had issued rare “emergency warnings” against landslides, rising rivers, strong winds and lightning strikes caused by what it called “historic” rains in 23 prefectures across the western and central parts of the country.

Such warnings are issued in anticipation of the sort of extreme conditions that occur just once or twice in 50 years.

Evacuation orders or advisories were issued for up to 5.9 million people in 19 prefectures at one point, while over 30,000 people were staying at evacuation centres as of 3pm on Sunday, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

Many people are also believed to be stranded in their homes because many access roads are flooded.

As damage in affected areas is unfolding, the number of casualties is expected to rise as many landslides were not immediately confirmed by local authorities.

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In Okayama Prefecture, one of the hardest-hit areas, more than 1,000 people became trapped on the roofs of buildings after three dykes on the Oda River burst. They were rescued by boats or helicopters.

In the Mabicho district, nearly 3,000 acres (1,200 hectares) or one-third of the district was submerged. About 4,600 homes were inundated in the area.

The land ministry plans to mobilise around 20 pumper trucks around the clock to drain the inundated area, but it is likely to take about two weeks to complete the drainage.

At Mabi Memorial Hospital, about 160 patients and medical staff took shelter on the second floor of the building as the first floor was partly submerged and rescuers, including SDF personnel, moved them into boats.

Some patients on stretchers were rescued from the roof by helicopter.

Since the downpour began Thursday, when the weather agency forecast record amounts of rain through Sunday, 38 people have died in Hiroshima, 20 in Ehime and 10 in Okayama.

The other casualties were from Yamaguchi, Kyoto, Gifu, Shiga, Hyogo, Kochi and Fukuoka prefectures.

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At an emergency meeting in Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for all-out search and rescue efforts.

It is the first time the government has convened an emergency disaster meeting since 2016, when strong earthquakes hit Kumamoto and Oita prefectures in southwestern Japan.

Abe also urged support for local governments in ensuring the provision of necessary supplies and countermeasures against the summer heat at evacuation centres in the flood-hit areas.

Even after the water recedes, it will take some time to return to normal as about 276,000 homes sustained water outages in 11 prefectures.

Roads were damaged and flooded everywhere and many railway sections remain disrupted, with bridges swept away and tracks flooded.

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According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, 17 railroad operators were suspending services on 56 routes in western Japan or elsewhere.

Some sections may need several months of repair work to resume train services.

Mazda Motor Corporation said it would continue to suspend operations at its two factories in Hiroshima and Yamaguchi prefectures until Tuesday for safety reasons and because of difficulties in the procurement of parts.

Additional reporting Kyodo News Service