Rain eases up in south-western Japan, but weather agency warns of more mudslides

Rescue workers searching for a missing resident at a collapsed house following a landslide caused by heavy rain in Soo, Kagoshima prefecture, on July 4, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - Widespread evacuation orders and advisories remained in place for Japan's south-western Kyushu island on Thursday (July 4) despite the worst of the deluge being over, as residents began to count the cost of the torrential downpour.

News pictures show reporters, donning helmets and rain gear, on the scene near flooded rice paddy fields and mudslides that have blocked roads, though few houses appeared to have been damaged.

Entire cities were asked to flee to safety on Wednesday at the height of the heavy rain, which began last Friday (June 28).

About 1.12 million people were under "evacuation orders", while another 869,000 people were covered by the less urgent "evacuation advisory". Some 1.32 million, meanwhile, were told to "prepare" to flee if conditions worsened.

As of Thursday morning, 805,000 people remained under "evacuation orders" although advisories began to be lifted as rains started easing. Rain clouds moved eastwards overnight, drenching the capital Tokyo in a torrential shower.

Some areas of Kyushu have received as much as 1,000mm of rain - or more than double the usual precipitation for the month of July, public broadcaster NHK said. Several areas have also seen more rain in one day than they would typically get in a month.

A woman in her 70s died on Monday after her home in Kagoshima City was crushed by a landslide. Four others were reportedly lightly injured on Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, a woman in her 80s was reported missing after her home in Soo city, Kagoshima, was destroyed by a mudslide.

Roads to several districts in Miyazaki prefecture were also reportedly cut off due to flooding and mudslides, although there were reportedly no injuries.

Still, while the worst of the torrential rain appeared to be over, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) has warned residents in the worst-hit Kagoshima, Miyazaki and Kumamoto prefectures to remain on alert for more mudslides, given that the loosened earth can lead to more soil erosion.

Ms Kumiko Jufuku, 77, who lives alone in Kagoshima City, told Kyodo News that she fled her home over fears that her house could be destroyed by a landslide.

"I cannot walk well so I will not be able to survive," she said.

In July last year, historic rainfall led to widespread flooding and mudslides that killed 225 people in 15 prefectures, mostly in Hiroshima, Ehime and Okayama prefectures. The calamity was the first other than an earthquake to be billed a "severe emergency" by the government.

The government had at the time been criticised for its slow response, prompting such new measures as a new five-tier disaster warning system dedicated solely for heavy rains.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed on Wednesday to spare no effort to protect lives, and has placed 14,000 Self-Defence Force personnel on standby to assist emergency responders.

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