TOKYO (REUTERS, AFP) - Torrential rains caused floods and landslides on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu on Wednesday (Aug 28), killing at least two people and prompting the authorities to issue a rare emergency warning and evacuation orders for nearly 850,000 people.
One man was killed when his car was washed away in Saga prefecture, where some areas were hit by more than 100mm of rainfall in an hour, public broadcaster NHK said.
Another man in Fukuoka prefecture died after being swept away as he got out of his car, media reports said.
A woman was also feared dead after her light vehicle plunged into a flooded ditch in the city of Saga, according to the police, Kyodo reported.
Television footage showed roads and railroad stations inundated and people wading knee-deep in flooded streets after several rivers broke their banks.
The Ground Self Defense Force – Japan’s military – said it had deployed about 100 troops for disaster relief after a request from Saga prefecture. Public transportation and businesses were affected.
Toyota Motor Corp said it would suspend work on Wednesday evening at a factory in Kyushu that builds Lexus cars. Daihatsu Motor also said it would stop work at factories in the region.
Japan’s meteorological agency assigned the highest alert level of 5, issuing an emergency warning to residents in large parts of northern Kyushu as they experienced torrential rains seen only once in a few decades.
The alert is issued "if there is a significant likelihood of catastrophes" and is activated once a disaster is declared, ordering people to take measures to protect their lives.
Nearly a million more people are under a lower-level evacuation advisory over the heavy rains.
The fire and disaster management agency said it had already received multiple reports of houses flooded in Saga prefecture, and officials were working to confirm details of the damage.
"We are seeing unprecedented levels of heavy rains in cities where we issued special warnings," the JMA added in a hastily organised press conference on Wednesday morning.
"It is a situation where you should do your best to protect your lives," weather agency official Yasushi Kajiwara said.
He also urged those currently facing evacuation advisories to act before the warning was upgraded further.
"Please don't wait," he said.
The JMA's emergency warnings affect areas in Saga, Fukuoka and Nagasaki in northern Kyushu.
The severe weather has also disrupted transport, with train services partially suspended in parts of northern Kyushu and some roads closed.
In some parts of the affected area, small landslides have already been reported.
Inside Saga station, stranded passengers sat on benches with water around their ankles.
Japanese authorities regularly urge people to take evacuation orders seriously, particularly after disastrous heavy rains last summer in Japan's west killed more than 200 people.
Many of the deaths were blamed on the fact that evacuation orders were issued too late and some people failed to follow them. Entire neighbourhoods were buried beneath landslides or submerged in floodwaters during the disasters.