JOSO CITY • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday visited a disaster-struck city north of Tokyo in the aftermath of massive flooding that killed at least four people, as rescuers raced against time to find more than a dozen still missing.
Parts of Joso, a community of 65,000 residents, were washed away last Thursday when a levee on the Kinugawa river gave way, flooding an area that reportedly spans 32 sq km, after the worst rains in decades.
Dramatic aerial footage showed whole houses being swept away by raging torrents in scenes eerily reminiscent of the devastating tsunami that crushed Japan's north- east coast four years ago.
"I felt more dead than alive," said a man who was rescued yesterday morning after days trapped inside his home. "I lived by drinking tea as there was no food. I'm so glad that they came to rescue me," he told public broadcaster NHK.
Later in the day, police found the body of a man in another river in Miyagi, bringing the death toll to four. He was believed to be a 62-year-old missing in the prefecture where people also suffered floods, local media reported.
DRINKING TEA TO STAY ALIVE
I felt more dead than alive. I lived by drinking tea as there was no food. I'm so glad that they came to rescue me.
A SURVIVOR, on how he was trapped inside his home for days
As the water receded, police officers wearing life vests shoved poles into thick muddy ground to locate possible victims.
Mr Abe yesterday morning visited disaster-hit Joso, about 60km outside Tokyo, as some 2,000 troops, police officers and firefighters were deployed to rescue more than 100 people still trapped in water-logged buildings, the bulk of whom were patients and medical staff inside a flooded hospital, local media said.
"We are doing our best to make things safe by reconstructing the broken (river) bank as quickly as possible, to prevent a repeat of this disaster," Mr Abe said.
Some 4,500 people were forced to stay in more than 20 facilities, such as schools, public halls and gymnasiums, as the region suffered a halt to water and power supply for the third night.
As the sky cleared, water levels began to return to normal at the river, after the heaviest rain in years pounded the country in the wake of Typhoon Etau, which smashed through Japan last week.
"We are working hard to rescue people trapped in buildings and find those who are still unaccounted for, while pumping out water," a local official said. "But water levels are still high in many areas so that has hampered our operation."
The number of missing people in Joso was reduced from 22 to 15 after police found more victims alive, including two eight-year- old children. It was not immediately clear where the children were found.
Meanwhile, a moderate earthquake hit Tokyo early yesterday, causing minor damage to buildings and leaving 15 people injured.