JOSO (Japan) • Floods in Japan that swept houses off foundations and crushed them under landslides spread across the country yesterday as more rivers burst their banks, leaving at least 23 people missing and forcing more than 100,000 others to flee.
A severe rain warning remained in effect for parts of northern Japan, but the floodwaters caused by Typhoon Etau were slowly retreating in the worst-hit city of Joso after washing houses away, sometimes with their owners still inside, in scenes reminiscent of a tsunami.
The city of Sendai issued an evacuation advisory to 412,000 people after the Nanakitagawa river flooded in Izumi ward, Kyodo news reported yesterday.
Three people have been killed in the north, including a 63-year-old woman crushed when her house was hit by a landslide and another when her car was swept away. At least 28 people were injured, eight seriously.
Two eight-year-old children are missing in disaster-struck Joso city, public broadcaster NHK said, quoting officials in the area which lies about 60km outside Tokyo. The community of 65,000 residents was hammered on Thursday when a levee on the Kinugawa river gave way, flooding a wide area that included 6,500 homes.
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-eastern coast in 2011.
Some of those rescued yesterday said the flooding brought back memories of that disaster, with Joso residents rescued by helicopter recalling the terror they felt as the flood waters quickly rose.
"There was a scene in front of me which was like the one in the tsunami disaster," Kyodo quoted Mr Jiro Nakayama, 70, as saying.
The Japan Times said the land ministry knew the Kinugawa river was prone to flooding and created a detailed simulation of watershed damage 10 years ago. The authorities did alert residents in high-risk areas in advance of Thursday's floods, the paper said.
But despite all the preparations, hundreds of people still failed to evacuate, leaving them hanging onto utility poles for several hours or displaying SOS signs from the balconies of their houses and flats.
Helicopters crisscrossed skies over the largely rural city of Osaki, 350km north of Tokyo, where the brown waters of the Shibui river inundated rice fields and houses as rescuers in rubber boats ferried people to safety. "My house is done for," one elderly woman told NHK.
Some parts of the country had received more than twice the usual September amount of rain in 48 hours by noon on Thursday, sparking some of the worst flooding in more than 60 years.
Japan has stepped up emphasis on disaster mitigation since the 2011 disaster and the authorities are keen to avoid the kind of criticism levelled at them then over their perceived sluggish response. "We are doing everything... to rescue those in need as soon as possible," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE