HIROSHIMA: The death toll from record rains that have devastated parts of Japan rose Sunday to at least 57, officials said, as rescue workers and troops struggled in the mud and water to save lives.
Local media put the toll at 67, with dozens more people missing and the number of fatalities expected to rise.
Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned of a “race against time” to rescue flood victims as there were still many people whose safety has yet to be confirmed.
The torrential downpours have caused flash flooding and landslides across central and western parts of the country, prompting evacuation orders for more than two million people.
The rain has completely blanketed some villages, forcing desperate residents to take shelter on their rooftops with flood water swirling below as they wait for rescue.
Over two million people have been told to evacuate, but the orders are not mandatory and many remained at home, becoming trapped by rapidly rising water or sudden landslides.
The meteorological agency issued its highest level alert for two new regions on Sunday, before lifting them after rains began subsiding later on the day.
In the town of Mihara, in the south of the Hiroshima region, a let-up in rain laid bare the devastation wrought by the downpours.
Roads were transformed into muddy flowing rivers, with dirt piled up on either side as flood water gushed around the wheels of stranded cars.
“The area became an ocean,” said 82-year-old Nobue Kakumoto, a long-time resident.
“I’m worried because I have no idea how long it will stay like this.”
Several dozen residents descended into the village to inspect the damage after spending the night in a tiny shelter on higher ground.
Masanori Hiramoto, a 68-year-old farmer, didn’t bother observing the Japanese custom of removing his shoes when he entered his ravaged home, the woven tatami mat floors carpeted with mud.
“I don’t even know where to start cleaning. I don’t know what is where,” he told AFP.
Elsewhere, work crews tried to clear multiple small landslides that coated roads, rendering them virtually impassable.
“We are carrying out rescue operations around the clock,” Yoshihide Fujitani, a disaster management official in Hiroshima prefecture, told AFP.
“We are also looking after evacuees and restoring lifeline infrastructure like water and gas,” he added.
“We are doing our best.”
In western Okayama prefecture, rescue operations were underway to evacuate several hundred people including children and the elderly from a hospital, some by helicopter.—AFP