Rain hampered Japanese rescuers seeking 20 missing people on Sunday after landslides triggered by torrential rains hit the central city of Atami, killing two women, a local city official said on Sunday, Reuters reports.
A total of 19 people were rescued, with 2 injured, and about 130 buildings were affected after floods, landslides and cascading mud collapsed and half-submerged houses on Saturday in the seaside city 90 km (60 miles) southwest of Tokyo, Yuta Hara, a spokesman for Atami city hall, told Reuters by phone.
“I just wanted to cry (when I saw what had happened),” said Naoto Date, a 55-year-old actor who returned to his hometown around 03:00 a.m. Saturday (1800 GMT on Friday) to check the damage.
“That area is in a valley between the mountains and there’s a small river flowing through it. Above that small river there’s a steep slope and the mudslide rushed down the slope and it became a river,” Date said.
“As many elderly people were living there, the thought that there might be people who failed to escape from the disaster makes me really sad,” he said.
The floods are a reminder of the natural disasters – including earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunami – that plague Japan, where the capital Tokyo is to host the summer Olympics starting this month.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga asked people in the affected areas to remain on alert and take precautions after he and cabinet ministers met on Sunday to discuss the disaster and heavy rain in the central and eastern Japan.
Some 700 people from the Shizuoka prefectural police, firefighters and Japan’s military continued their search and rescue efforts, but their operations have been interrupted twice due to a risk of ground loosening and warnings of secondary damage from rain, Atami’s Hara said.
Slog for rescuers in resort town hit by landslides
Search and rescue team in a Japanese seaside holiday town hit by a landslide suspended their hunt for survivors several times yesterday amid more alerts.
Two women were confirmed dead after torrents of mud crashed through part of the hot-spring resort of Atami in central Japan on Saturday morning following days of downpours.
Nineteen people had been rescued and 20 were missing last night.
“We’re doing our best to rescue survivors while checking the weather and other conditions,” disaster management spokesman Yuta Hara said.
Around 130 homes and other buildings were wrecked as the landslide swept through a residential area to the sea. Vehicles were buried and buildings tipped from foundations.
Hara said the slide was a kilometer long and 120 meters wide at some points.
Hundreds of rescue workers and military personnel combed through the mud and debris with diggers and on foot, climbing across cracked roofs and checking for bodies.
Divers searched murky seas and police scoured damaged houses with sniffer dogs.
Rain hampered rescue operations, however, with workers forced to halt many times because of smaller landslides and alerts.
Residents at an evacuation center told of panic.
“When I opened the door everyone was rushing along the street,” Kazuyo Yamada said. “So I went in a hurry.”
Fisherman Hisao Shima, 58, said when he heard a landslide warning siren at first he “didn’t think it was going to be that bad. But when I stepped outside there was rumbling all around.”
Atami, 90 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, saw rainfall of 313 millimeters in just 48 hours to Saturday – higher than the average monthly total for July, which is 242.5 mm.
Much of Japan is currently in its rainy season, which can last several weeks. But scientists say climate change is intensifying the phenomenon.
At least seven other landslides were reported, and residents in other cities and towns in Shizuoka had to evacuate.