'It was so, so scary': Rain sparks floods, landslides in Japan

Japan braced for further downpours on Sunday as rescuers sifted through flood and landslide damage after record rain in the country. 

'It was so, so scary'

Japan braced for further downpours on Sunday as rescuers sifted through flood and landslide damage after record rain that left at least three dead.

Residents returned to check on their mud-covered homes in the southwest, where nearly two million people were advised to urgently seek shelter Saturday as rivers overflowed.

"So many logs tumbled down and crashed into this area" from nearby mountains, an elderly resident of Kanzaki in Saga prefecture told public broadcaster NHK.

"It was so, so scary," she said. "You absolutely have to leave when it rains."

More than a metre (three feet) of rain has been recorded since Wednesday in the northern part of Kyushu, one of the places hardest hit by a band of intense wet weather stretching across Japan.

(Photograph:AFP)

More rain expected

Showers had eased in the region on Sunday, with the weather agency downgrading alerts from the top level, but more rain was expected from the evening.

"We have not started to survey human or property damage on a full scale," said Hironori Fujiki, a city official in Kyushu's Nagasaki prefecture.

"We have yet to see an entire picture of the disaster," he told AFP.

Two women in their 70s were confirmed dead after they were found in a drainage canal, Fujiki said.

(Photograph:AFP)

Landslides & rain

Rescue workers are still combing the wreckage for two of her family members.

Images showed aviation teams in Saga winching people to safety from homes surrounded by muddy water.

Landslides were also seen in other parts of Japan, with three people including a child under 10 feared dead after a family home was engulfed in central Nagano region, a local official told AFP on Sunday.

Scientists say climate change is intensifying the risk of heavy rain in Japan and elsewhere, because a warmer atmosphere holds more water.

Strong rain last month caused a devastating landslide in the central resort town of Atami that killed 23 people, with four still missing.

(Photograph:AFP)

Nearly two million people urged to seek shelter

In 2018, floods and landslides killed more than 200 people in western Japan during the country's annual rainy season.

Ryuta Kurora, director of forecasts at Japan's weather agency, warned that the record rainfall will have loosened the soil in some areas.

"We ask residents to continue to exercise serious caution for landslides," he said in a televised press briefing.

Nearly two million people were urged to seek shelter as torrential rain triggered floods and landslides in western Japan on Saturday, leaving at least one dead and three missing.

Authorities in seven regions, mainly in the northern part of Kyushu island, issued their highest evacuation alert as the weather agency reported unprecedented levels of rain in the area.

Under the non-compulsory alert, more than 1.8 million residents have been asked to leave their homes immediately, according to public broadcaster NHK.

(Photograph:AFP)

River banks busted

TV footage showed rescuers towing residents through submerged streets on a lifeboat in the town of Kurume in Fukuoka, while a man who was rescued in neighbouring Saga prefecture said he had never seen rain like it.

"This situation is different," he told NHK. "I've had a similar experience before, but (this time) I was scared."

The government said 14 rivers had burst their banks and 14 landslides had occurred, mainly in western Japan.

A 59-year-old woman died and two of her family members were missing after a landslide destroyed two houses in Unzen, Nagasaki, a local official said.

"More than 150 troops, police and firefighters were dispatched to the site for rescue operations," Takumi Kumasaki told AFP.

"They are carefully searching for the missing residents, while watching out for further mudslides as the heavy rain continues."

(Photograph:AFP)

Climate change intensifying

A 76-year-old man was also missing in Kumamoto after he tried to secure his fishing boat at a surging river, a regional official told AFP.

Downpours are forecast for several more days over a large swathe of the country.

Scientists say climate change is intensifying the risk of heavy rain in Japan and elsewhere, because a warmer atmosphere holds more water.

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

(Photograph:AFP)

Japan on maximum alert

"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."

Strong rain last month caused a devastating landslide in the central resort town of Atami that killed 23 people, with four still missing.

(Photograph:AFP)

'This is the worst'

While the rain had stopped in much of Kyushu as of Sunday morning, Tokyo and other parts of the country were pounded by the downpour.

The Japanese government will hold a ministerial meeting on the heavy rains on Sunday afternoon, Kyodo reported.

In Takeo, a city in Saga prefecture in Kyushu, entire roads were submerged as rescue workers in wetsuits dragged inflatable boats and surveyed the damage. Local residents carried broomsticks and buckets and waded knee-deep in water.

"I've experienced three floods like this so far, but this is the worst," said Toshimi Kusumoto, a 68-year-old doctor whose clinic was flooded.

Kusumoto waited out the rain with his family on the second floor of his house, he said, located just behind the clinic.

The water reached his house, too, meaning most of the appliances on the ground floor would have to be replaced. His garage was bent out of shape, presumably from the pressure of the water.

(Photograph:AFP)

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