Flood in Japan as torrential rains and floodwaters hit Kyushu Photograph:( AFP )
Japan is in the middle of its annual rainy season, which frequently unleashes deadly floods and landslides.
Emergency services in western Japan were "racing against time" Tuesday to rescue people stranded by devastating floods and landslides that have killed at least 52, as the country braced for more torrential downpours.
Japan's Meteorological Agency (JMA) issued its second-highest emergency warning for heavy rain and landslides over vast swathes of the country's southwest and said "risks are rising" nationwide.
Television footage showed swollen rivers breaking their banks and sweeping away bridges while landslides destroyed roads and buried houses, complicating access for the 80,000 rescue personnel battling to save lives.
At least 52 deaths have been confirmed in the rains that began early Saturday, top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said, but the toll is expected to rise, with four more feared dead and over a dozen reported missing.
He warned that more heavy rain was forecast over the next two days, saying: "Even a small amount of rainfall could cause a disaster. I would like people to be on full alert against landslides and floods."
In the hardest-hit region of Kumamoto, on the southwest tip of Japan, disaster management official Yutaro Hamasaki said: "We are racing against time."
"We have not set any deadline or time to end the operation, but we really need to speed up our search as time is running out. We won't give up to the end," Hamasaki said.
Fourteen of the dead were wheelchair-bound residents of a nursing home unable to escape to higher ground as the waters rose.
A rescue worker who searched the facility told NHK: "The ground floor was filled with water and we couldn't get into it. Some people managed to evacuate to the first floor. I've never experienced anything like this in my life."
Further complicating evacuation efforts was the fear of spreading the coronavirus.
Japan has been relatively lightly affected by the pandemic, with just under 20,000 cases and fewer than 1,000 deaths.
But the need to maintain social distancing has reduced capacity at evacuation shelters.
The disaster has also compounded problems for businesses already hard hit by the pandemic.
Japan is in the middle of its annual rainy season, which frequently unleashes deadly floods and landslides. Climate change has intensified the risks of heavy rains, because a warmer atmosphere holds more water.
In 2018, more than 200 people died in devastating floods in the same region of Japan.