ASAKURA (Japan) • Rescuers in Japan are scrambling to find more than 20 people missing after huge floods swept across the country's south this week, killing six and leaving a trail of destruction.
Raging rivers overflowing with water and mud have devastated swathes of Kyushu - the southernmost of Japan's four main islands - after heavy rainfall, sweeping away roads and houses, and destroying schools.
Thousands of rescuers have been fighting through thick mud and battling the rain to search for missing and stranded people, with more than 1,000 believed to be cut off, according to public broadcaster NHK.
The government said yesterday that six had been killed, while 22 remain unaccounted for.
Parts of Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu were hit by 59cm of rain over 48 hours since Wednesday morning, well over the usual rainfall in the month of July, the meteorological agency said.
NHK footage showed rescuers removing the body of a victim from a damaged home, and heavy machines moving rocks and dirt to clean roads.
Vehicles could also be seen overturned or buried in mud, and reinforced riverbanks destroyed by raging water. Military trucks and rescue vehicles competed for space on the city's streets.
We looked outside and the roads were like rivers.
ASAKURA RESIDENT SUMIE UMEYO
NHK said the local authorities were dispatching helicopters to pluck people out of isolation, showing footage of stranded elderly residents being rescued. It added that the authorities were rushing to restore access to regions cut off by the landslides and floods.
Just under 80,000 people have been ordered to evacuate, down from more than 400,000 at the peak of the rains.
"At first, it wasn't raining that much," said Asakura resident Sumie Umeyo. "But they spoke of record-breaking rain and it started raining heavily, then they began closing the roads. We looked outside and the roads were like rivers."
In the nearby city of Hita in neighbouring Oita prefecture, Mr Masayoshi Arakawa said he had experienced heavy rains in the past but this year's deluge was unexpected.
"A few years ago, I had no problems. So I thought that's how it would go again and I decided to spend the night at my house last night," he said on Thursday. "But when I went out to see how it was outside, I became frightened."
The government's top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, told a press conference yesterday that some 12,000 police, military, firefighting and coast guard personnel were taking part in rescue operations.
"Heavy rain is forecast to continue intermittently," Mr Suga said, while calling for continued vigilance.
"I would like people in the disaster zone to pay full attention to evacuation information."
Heavy rain and landslide warnings remained in place yesterday. The Japan Meteorological Agency said it expected as much as 25cm of torrential downpour in the 24 hours until this morning.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS