JOSO CITY , Japan (AFP) - Disastrous floods have left three dead and dozens missing in eastern Japan, the authorities said on Friday (Sept 11) as thousands of rescuers were deployed to evacuate trapped residents from an inundated city north of Tokyo.
The heaviest rain in decades continued to pound the country, threatening to worsen conditions in the wake of Typhoon Etau, which smashed through Japan earlier this week, bringing strong winds and travel chaos.
At least 25 people including a pair of eight-year-old children are missing in disaster-struck Joso city, public broadcaster NHK said, quoting officials in the area which lies about 60km outside Tokyo.
The community of 65,000 residents was hammered on Thursday when a levee on the Kinugawa river gave way, flooding an area that reportedly spans 32 sq km and includes 6,500 homes.
Dramatic aerial footage showed whole houses being swept away by raging torrents in scenes eerily reminiscent of the devastating tsunami that crushed Japan’s north-east coast four years ago.
Desperate Joso residents waved towels as they stood on balconies trying to summon help, while military dinghies ferried dozens of people to safety, and helicopters plucked others from rooftops.
“That was the first time I’ve seen the levee burst at the Kinugawa river,” an elderly man told AFP near a shelter in Joso.
Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said some 5,800 troops, police and firefighters were dispatched early Friday to flooded areas where rescuers had worked through the night.
“The government is making the utmost effort, mobilising police, firefighters and the Self-Defence Forces, to rescue people as quickly as possible,” Mr Suga said in Tokyo.
‘READY TO RUN AWAY’
Television footage at daybreak from Joso, located in Ibaraki prefecture, showed city residents sloshing through knee-deep water to reach evacuation shelters.
“We are trying our best to rescue people as soon as possible, while still asking our residents to be vigilant for now,” prefecture official Hiroaki Tachi told AFP.
The area has been hit by power outages and blackouts.
Another river in Miyagi prefecture, north of Ibaraki, burst its banks and flooded a populated area but many residents had already been evacuated, reports said.
In Kanuma city, north of Joso, a 63-year-old woman was killed after being swallowed by landslides triggered by the heavy rain, while a 48-year-old woman was also found dead in Miyagi, officials said.
The third victim – a man in his 20s – was found in Tochigi prefecture, officials said.
“I still feel the trauma” from the tsunami, a woman told public broadcaster NHK from a shelter in Minami Soma, one of the areas hit by the 2011 disaster that also triggered reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant. “I was ready to run away as soon as the evacuation order was issued.”
Automaker Toyota said it has temporarily shuttered three production plants in affected areas for employee safety reasons and would decide on a restart later Friday. A company spokesman said the factories were not damaged.
An estimated 690 people were awaiting rescue as of 11.00pm on Thursday (10pm Singapore time), the National Police Agency said. It was not immediately clear how many people were currently trapped.
More than 100,000 people had been ordered to leave their homes on Thursday after the torrential rain, with up to 60cm falling in some places.
Forecasters from the Japan Meteorological Agency issued special warnings, urging vigilance against mudslides and flooding.
Japan is no stranger to natural disasters, and is frequently rocked by typhoons.
However, nothing in recent memory has compared with the tsunami of 2011, when more than 18,000 people were killed.