One dead, two missing as torrential rains slam Japan, risk alerts broadened

Rescue workers searching for missing persons at the site of a mudslide caused by heavy rain in Unzen, on Aug 14, 2021.
Rescue workers searching for missing persons at the site of a mudslide caused by heavy rain in Unzen, on Aug 14, 2021.PHOTO: AFP PHOTO/NAGASAKI KENOU FIRE DEPARTMENT

TOKYO (REUTERS, AFP) - One woman was dead and two other people were missing on Saturday (Aug 14) after torrential rains touched off a landslide and engulfed two houses in Nagasaki prefecture in western Japan.

A wide swath of western Japan, particularly the southernmost main island of Kyushu, saw record levels of rainfall, with as much as 956 mm (37.6 inches) falling in one area in the three days to noon on Saturday.

Japan broadened its highest level 5 risk alerts to cover more than 1.5 million people, NHK public broadcaster said, while the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) warned of more rain to come over the next few days.

“People must take steps to secure their safety,” a JMA official told a news conference.

“There has been almost no movement of the rain front over Japan, and it’s being fed by warm, humid air, which is making it more active.” Rivers broke their banks in several cities, including Kurume in Fukuoka, and were dangerously close to the tops in others.

TV footage showed rescuers towing residents through submerged streets on a lifeboat in the town of Kurume in Fukuoka, while a muddy stream began to overflow in neighbouring Saga prefecture.

The Kamo River running through the ancient capital of Kyoto was high but not flooded as of noon Saturday.

Landslides hit several parts of Nagasaki prefecture, with one sweeping away at least two houses and killing Fumiyo Mori, 59. Her husband and daughter were missing, and military personnel joined rescuers looking for them, NHK said.

Shinkansen bullet train service was halted along much of the line running from Tokyo to Kyushu.

Heavy rains have moved into the central part of the largest main island of Honshu. The JMA has warned that the front is likely to remain over the nation for about a week.

“Unprecedented levels of heavy rain have been observed,” Yushi Adachi, a meteorological agency official, told reporters in Tokyo.

“It’s highly likely that some kind of disaster has already occurred,” Adachi said. “The maximum alert is needed even in areas where risks of landslides and flooding are usually not so high.”