OSAKA —- Eighty-eight people have died and over 50 remain missing on Sunday after torrential rains triggered massive flooding and landslides in western Japan, with rescue operations continuing in disaster-hit areas. Rescuers expanded their search for those still missing and stranded, with 54,000 personnel from the police, fire departments, the Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard now involved.
Evacuation orders or advisories were issued for up to 5.9 million people in 19 prefectures at one point, while over 30,000 people were staying at evacuation centers as of 3 p.m. Sunday, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.
Many people are also believed to be stranded in their homes due to a lack of access roads because of flooding. As damage in affected areas is unfolding, the number of casualties is expected to rise as many landslides were not immediately confirmed by local authorities.
In Okayama Prefecture, one of the hardest-hit areas, more than 1,000 people trapped on the roofs of buildings submerged by floods following the bursting of three dikes on nearby Oda River were rescued by boats or helicopters.
In the Mabi district, about 1,200 hectares or one third of the district was submerged. About 4,600 homes were inundated in the area. The land ministry plans to mobilize around 20 pumper trucks around the clock to drain the inundated area but it is likely to take about two weeks to complete the drainage.
At Mabi Memorial Hospital, about 160 patients and medical staff took shelter on the second floor of the building as the first floor was partly submerged and rescue workers, including SDF personnel, moved them into boats. Some patients waited on stretchers on the roof of the hospital building and were rescued by a helicopter.
Since the downpour began Thursday, when the weather agency forecast record amounts of rain through Sunday, 38 people have died in Hiroshima, 21 in Ehime and 10 in Okayama. The other casualties were from Yamaguchi, Kyoto, Gifu, Shiga, Hyogo, Kochi, Fukuoka and Kagoshima prefectures.
At an emergency meeting to deal with the disaster at his office in Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for all-out search and rescue efforts. It is the first time the government has convened an emergency disaster meeting since 2016 when strong earthquakes hit Kumamoto and Oita prefectures in southwestern Japan.
Abe also urged support for relevant local governments in ensuring the provision of necessary supplies and countermeasures against the summer heat at evacuation centers in the flood-hit areas. Even after the water recedes from flooded areas it will take some time for people’s lives to return to normal as about 276,000 homes suffered water outages in 11 prefectures.
Roads were damaged and flooded everywhere and many railway sections remain disrupted, with bridges swept away and tracks flooded. According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, 17 railroad operators were suspending services on 56 routes in western Japan or elsewhere.
Some sections may need several months of repair work to resume train services. Mazda Motor Corp said it will continue to suspend operations at its two factories in Hiroshima and Yamaguchi prefectures until Tuesday to ensure the safety of employees amid traffic disruptions, as well as due to uncertainty over procurement of auto parts.