Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Rescuers seek up to 100 missing people after Japan mudslides bury buildings

An inquiry will examine whether the development of residential areas near the disaster-hit area may have caused the disaster.

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Rain hampered Japanese rescuers searching for missing people on Sunday after mudslides triggered by torrential rains hit the central city of Atami, killing two women, a local city official said on Sunday.

About 130 buildings were buried as floods, landslides and cascading mud deluged houses on Saturday in the seaside city 90 km southwest of Tokyo, Yuta Hara, a spokesman for Atami city hall, told Reuters by phone.

An official said more people, possibly 100, could still be missing under the mudslides but warned that details were not immediately clear. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as is often policy at Japanese bureaucracies, stressed that aggressive rescue operations were underway to find survivors.

The floods are a reminder of the natural disasters – including earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunami – that plague Japan, where the capital Tokyo is to host the summer Olympics starting this month.

“I just wanted to cry when I saw what had happened,” said Naoto Date, a 55-year-old actor who returned to his hometown around in the early hours on Saturday to check the damage.

“The mud rushed down the hill and it became a river,” Date said. “Many elderly people live there, and the thought that there might be people who failed to escape from the disaster makes me really sad.”

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga asked people in the affected areas to remain on alert and take precautions after he and cabinet ministers met on Sunday to discuss the disaster amid heavy rain in central and eastern Japan.

Up to 1,000 rescuers from the Shizuoka prefectural police, firefighters and military continued their search and rescue efforts, but their operations were constantly interrupted due to the ground loosening and warnings of secondary damage from rain, Atami’s Hara said.

In the affected area where intermittent rain continued, about 400 people had been evacuated as of Sunday afternoon.

Heita Kawakatsu, governor of Shizuoka prefecture, told a news conference the development of residential areas near the disaster-hit area may have reduced the mountain’s ability to retain water and caused the disaster, Kyodo news agency said.

“The prefecture will examine the causal relationship between the two factors,” Kyodo quoted Kawakatsu as saying.

Atami is home to hot spring resorts and situated on a steep slope into a bay. The water, mud and debris are believed to have flowed along a river for about 2km to the sea, local media said.

Local TV aired footage of collapsed and half-submerged houses. Social media images showed partially submerged cars and rescue workers wading through waist-high water.

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