Death toll in western Japan rain deluge tops 120

Police and fire department rescue workers prepare for searching operation in Kumano, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, on July 9, 2018.
Police and fire department rescue workers prepare for searching operation in Kumano, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, on July 9, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO - The death toll from days of torrential rain and landslides in western Japan topped 120 on Monday (July 9), with scores still missing, in what has been recognised by the government as a "serious disaster".

Some 123 people are confirmed dead, two are in cardiac arrest and another 61 are unaccounted for, according to a tally by public broadcaster NHK at 10pm local time (9pm in Singapore). Tens of thousands remain displaced.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called off his eight-day trip to Belgium, France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt that was to begin from Wednesday to oversee the recovery response for Japan's worst flood disaster since 1983.

Dozens are believed to still be stranded inside homes with access roads having been cut off by flooding, local media reported Monday, with shell-shocked residents bracing for further bad news.

Though the skies have cleared, the Japan Meteorological Agency has warned that the threat of mudslides still remains high. Torrential rain alerts have been replaced by heatstroke advisories, with temperatures soaring to 35 degrees Celsius in several areas.

Over 74,000 personnel, including police officers, firefighters and Self-Defence Force soldiers, have been tapped in a massive search-and-rescue operation, with news channels showing dramatic footage of residents, stranded on rooftops, being airlifted to safety.

Personnel have been tasked with distributing food and water, and are setting up temporary toilets and installing air-conditioners at evacuation centres in the worst-hit areas.

 
 

These include Hiroshima, Okayama and Ehime prefectures, where 44, 36 and 25 people have died respectively. Okayama prefecture's Kurashiki city alone accounted for 29 deaths, the majority of whom were from Mabi district, where a third of its area had been submerged and 4,600 homes inundated.

The government has termed the heavy rains that battered central and western Japan from last Thursday through Sunday as "historic". The deluge set records by up to three times the average monthly rainfall for July in several areas, with at least 93 locations reporting record amounts.

At one point, evacuation orders or advisories were issued for up to 5.9 million people in 19 prefectures, according to a tally by Kyodo News.

About 10,000 people in 12 prefectures remain in evacuation centres, public broadcaster NHK said last night.

Mr Abe said Monday the national government will provide financial recovery aid to the affected areas, as he convened an emergency task force meeting for the second day in a row.

The rains have damaged key infrastructure such as highways and railways in the affected regions. As of noon on Monday, electricity remained cut off to about 11,300 households, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said.

Meanwhile, the rains also shuttered factory plants, paralysed logistics supply chains, and closed businesses including 24-hour convenience stores.

Among those affected were automobile firms Daihatsu, Mazda and Toyota, as well as materials engineering companies Teijin and Oji Materia.

Asahi Shuzo, the company that produces the popular Dassai brand of sake that also ships to Singapore, has said that production and export will be hit for several months.

The brewery is flooded, which damaged raw rice stored in its warehouse, and power has not been wholly restored, president Kazuhiro Sakurai told NHK.

"It is in a state where sake production is impossible," he said. "But while we have suffered major damage, all our employees will work as quickly as possible so that we can do our best to resume shipments soon."