Japan PM Shinzo Abe cancels overseas trip as rain death toll hits 100

More than 73,000 police, firefighters and troops were taking part in rescue efforts along with 700 helicopters

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 July, 2018, 4:21pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 July, 2018, 8:20pm

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has cancelled a four-country foreign trip as the death toll from flooding and landslides caused by record rains hit 100, local media said Monday.

Abe had been expected to visit Belgium, France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt from Wednesday. His office declined to comment on the reports.

Abe reportedly told the deputy chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party that he had “no choice but to cancel” as the disaster continues to unfold, Kyodo news agency said.

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Public broadcaster NHK and several other media also reported the trip had been cancelled because of the crisis.

Abe is now expected to visit some of the areas worst affected by the flash flooding and landslides as early as Wednesday, the reports said.

He had been due to start the trip in Belgium on Wednesday, where he was to sign a massive free trade.

Meanwhile, rescuers were hard at work searching for dozens still missing in southwestern Japan after heavy rains that left residents returning to their homes speechless and unsure where to start the recovery and clean-up due to the extent of damage from flooding and mudslides.

At least 100 people died or are presumed dead, with more than 60 still unaccounted for, most of them in the hardest-hit Hiroshima area.

The assessment of casualties has been difficult because of the widespread area affected by the rainfall, flooding and landslides since late last week.

Authorities warned that landslides could strike even after rain subsides as the calamity shaped up to be potentially the worst in decades.

Some homes were smashed. Others were tilting precariously. Rivers overflowed, turning towns into lakes, leaving dozens of people stranded on rooftops. Military paddle boats and helicopters have brought people to the ground.

Abe said the government has expended the search and rescue effort, dispatching 73,000 troops and emergency workers, along with 700 helicopters.

“The rescue teams are doing their utmost,” he said.

In large parts of Hiroshima, water streamed through a residential area, strewn with fallen telephone poles, uprooted trees and mud over the weekend.

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.

A couple was found dead in a farmhouse buried in a mudslide in Kagoshima prefecture Monday, while earlier a woman who was reported as missing after getting trapped in her car was found dead.

Kochi prefecture, on Shikoku, issued landslide warnings almost over the entire island.

The Japanese government set up an emergency task force over the weekend and has sent troops, firefighters, police and other disaster relief.

People have also taken to social media to plead for help.

Okayama prefecture, south of Hiroshima, said in a statement that five people had died, seven were missing and 11 were injured, at least one of them seriously.

Nine homes were destroyed, dozens more were damaged, while more than 500 were flooded.

Agence France-Presse, Kyodo, Associated Press