TOKYO • Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday met survivors of devastating rains that have killed at least 204 people in flash flooding and landslides, as the government pledged more aid.
The toll from the record rainfall that hit the country's western region has continued to rise, as rescue workers dug through the debris and searched for dozens of people still reported missing.
Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said the toll was 204 dead, with 28 missing. About 73,000 rescue workers including police and troops "are working as hard as they can, with the priority on saving lives", he said.
Mr Abe, who earlier this week cancelled a foreign tour, travelled for a second time to areas hit by the disaster. TV footage showed him in Seiyo, in Ehime prefecture, where he visited homes damaged in the disaster and talked to residents trying to clean up the mess.
Mr Abe had earlier met the government's taskforce on the disaster and pledged new aid. The government has already said it will tap about US$18 million (S$25 million) in reserve funds from this year's Budget, and Mr Abe said US$312 million in tax grants would be disbursed early to local governments in affected areas.
"I want local governments in disaster-hit areas to do all they can for emergency assistance and reconstruction, without hesitating to spend," he said.
The financial cost of the disaster is still being calculated, but the agriculture ministry said it has assessed losses of at least US$207 million. That figure is likely to rise as the clean-up continues and the scale of the damage becomes clear.
Agriculture Minister Ken Saito said the cost of some vegetables had already shot up by between 10 per cent and 30 per cent and that the ministry would be "closely monitoring" price hikes.
Meanwhile, Japanese municipal workers were struggling yesterday to restore water supply.
Communities that grappled with rising floodwaters last week now find themselves battling scorching summer temperatures well above 30 deg C, as garbage piled up in mud-splattered streets.
"We need the water supply back," said Mr Hiroshi Oka, 40, a resident helping to clean up the Mabi district in one of the hardest-hit areas, the city of Kurashiki in Okayama prefecture. "What we are getting is a thin stream of water, and we can't flush toilets or wash our hands," he added.
More than 200,000 households in Kurashiki have gone without water for a week.
A city official told Reuters supply had been restored to some parts of the district, but was unaware when normal operations would resume as engineers were still locating water pipeline ruptures.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS