At least 49 dead, dozens missing as wide swathes of Japan lashed by torrential rain


People wait to be evacuated from the roof of a house in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, on Saturday afternoon.  Photo: KYODO

TOKYO, July 7 -- The death toll continued to rise after record torrential rain pummeled wide swathes of Japan since Thursday, triggering landslides and flooding, local media reported on Saturday.

According to Japan's public broadcaster NHK, 49 people have been confirmed dead, 5 people sustained serious injuries and at least 48 people are still unaccounted for.

Of the 49 people confirmed dead, 23 were in Hiroshima prefecture which was hit hardest by the heavy rain and subsequent landslides, 18 in Ehime prefecture, while people were also reported dead in the prefectures of Fukuoka, Kyoto, Okayama, Shiga, Hyogo, and Yamaguchi in western and southwestern Japan, said NHK.

Some 48,000 members of Japan's Self-Defense Forces, police and firefighters have been searching for the people trapped or wounded in landslides and flooding triggered by the heavy rain.

In Okayama, some 120 people were stranded in a nursing home for the elderly due to the flooding, and in Gifu prefecture, hundreds of people were isolated after roads were destroyed by mudslides.

Evacuation orders or advisories have been issued for some 3.56 million people in the prefectures of Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Okayama as of 7:00 p.m. local time.

The Japanese government has set up a liaison unit at the crisis management center of the prime minister's office to gather information.

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), an active seasonal rain front has been causing torrential rain in most eastern and western regions of Japan, which could continue until Sunday.

The agency has warned that Japan's Kinki region, which includes Kyoto, Hyogo and Osaka prefectures, could be particularly hard-hit by downpours, escalating the risk of floods, landslides, lightning and tornadoes. 

Rivers from Hokkaido to Kyushu have been reported as running at above flood warning levels and the weather agency has warned of further landslides possibly being triggered by the record-levels of rainfall.

Transportation services have been severely disrupted since Thursday, with Shinkansen bullet train services partially suspended in most parts of western Japan and major arterial highways partially closed.

Manufacturing was also hit hard by the heavy downpour and flooding, as major carmakers such as Mazda Motor Corp. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and manufacturers such as Panasonic Corp. suspending operations at some plants in western Japan.

Local tourism also suffered a blow, according to reports, as tourist events and hotel reservations were cancelled in areas hit by the heavy rain.

Local retailers and convenience stores in some areas of western Japan were also closed due to the bad weather.  

The JMA has been urging people to stay vigilant and listen out for emergency alarms from local governments issuing advisories or calling for immediate evacuations.