20 missing as mudslide sweeps homes in Japan and at least two dead

Two bodies were found after a massive landslide in a resort town in central Japan on Saturday wiped out homes after days of torrential rain, leaving about 20 people missing, officials said.

Television images showed a deluge of mud swept away buildings as it crashed down a hill in Atami, southwest of Tokyo, causing people to flee as it buried part of a road.

“I heard a terrible noise and saw a mudslide pouring down as rescuers urged people to evacuate. So I ran to higher ground,” the head of a temple in the disaster told NHK.

“When I returned, the houses and cars in front of the temple were gone.”

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said emergency services and the military had launched rescue and evacuation missions and warned that more downpours were forecast.

“There is a chance of heavy rain from the rain front, so we still need to be alert at maximum levels,” he said at an emergency disaster meeting.

Atami saw rainfall of 313 millimeters in just 48 hours until Saturday, more than the average monthly total for July of 242.5 millimeters, according to NHK.

Two people were “found in a state of cardio-respiratory arrest,” the regional governor said, a phrase commonly used in Japan before death is confirmed.

“Due to the heavy rain, the ground loosened and the mudslide took place… it accelerated and swept away houses along with people,” Shizuoka Governor Heita Kawakatsu told reporters.

He said “about 20” people were still missing after being swept away by the landslide.

rainy season

The disaster started around 10:30 a.m. at a river near the city, which is about 90 kilometers (55 miles) from Tokyo and is known as a hot spring resort.

A video posted to TikTok of the scene showed a huge slurry of mud and debris slowly sliding down a steep road, nearly engulfing a white car, which pulled away before a faster and more violent torrent arrived.

Other social media clips showed the landslide toppling power poles, flooding large areas with several waves of Earth.

Much of Japan is currently in the annual rainy season, which lasts several weeks and often causes flooding and landslides, forcing local authorities to issue evacuation orders.

Scientists say climate change is intensifying the phenomenon because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, resulting in more intense rainfall.

More than 200 people died when devastating floods swept western Japan in 2018.

The highest evacuation alert, urging people to “urgently ensure safety,” has been issued to the city of Atami, which has more than 20,000 households, according to NHK.

Residents in many other towns in Shizuoka have also been ordered to evacuate.

According to the Tokyo Electric Power Company, about 2,800 homes in Atami are without power.

Shinkansen bullet trains between Tokyo and Osaka were temporarily halted due to the heavy rain, while other local trains in rain-affected areas were also halted, railway company websites said.

(AFP)

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