Rescue workers were combing through the wreckage of houses hit by flooding and landslides in Japan after extreme weather left more than 50 people dead or missing on the southern island of Kyushu.
The Kyodo news agency said 40 people had died in the floods and at least 11 were missing. Among the dead were 14 residents of an elderly care home in Kuma village, Kumamoto, where the nearby Kuma river flooded. More torrential rain is forecast for coming days.
A number of rivers broke their banks and warnings were in effect that others, including the Kimotsuki river in Kagoshima, were in danger of doing so.
In one of hardest-hit areas, residents spelled the words “rice, water, SOS” on the ground, while others waved towels and called for rescue and relief goods.
Hirokazu Kosaki, a 75-year-old bus driver in the town of Ashikita, told Jiji press: “It was nothing but water as far as I could see.”
Chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, told a news conference on Monday: “I offer my deepest condolences for those who have passed from the torrential rains,” adding that some 40,000 members of the self-defence force were involved in rescue missions.
On Monday morning in Miyazaki prefecture, 120mm of rain fell in an hour, while in neighbouring Kagoshima prefecture, 110mm fell over the same time period. Another 300 to 400mm more is forecast to fall by Tuesday evening in southern Kyushu, with 250 to 300mm set to hit the northern part of the island as more rainclouds move over the area.
More than 200,000 residents in the worst-hit Kumamoto prefecture were advised to evacuate over the weekend, with some reportedly reluctant to go to shelters over fears of coronavirus infection. More than 4,500 homes were confirmed to be without power and around 2,000 were cut off by floodwaters.
“It’s such a mess,” resident Hirotoshi Nishi told public broadcaster NHK as he swept debris from his mud-strewn front room. “Many pieces of wood came into my house. I don’t know what to do.”
Tens of thousands of firefighters, coast guard personnel and members of the Self-Defence Forces were engaged in rescue and recovery efforts, with more on their way to the area.
Ikuo Kabashima, governor of Kumamoto prefecture, has come under fire from some quarters for opposing a dam planned to help prevent floods. The Harvard-educated former university professor promised to look into alternative flood-prevention schemes, all of which were rejected due to cost.
The heavy rain is forecast to spread across the country until Tuesday, bringing 200 to 300mm to the Kansai region around Osaka and the Kanto region around Tokyo.