TOKYO (Reuters) – The death toll from unprecedented rains in Japan rose to at least 62 on Sunday as widespread flooding forced several million from their homes, with more rain set to hit some areas for at least another day.
Torrential rains that saw some parts of western Japan pounded with three times the usual precipitation for a normal July set off landslides and sent rivers surging over their banks, trapping many people in their houses or on rooftops.
“We’ve never experienced this kind of rain before,” an official at the Japanese Meteorological Agency told a news conference. “This is a situation of extreme danger.”
At least 62 people were dead and 44 missing, national broadcaster NHK said. Among the missing was a nine-year-old boy believed trapped in his house by a landslide that left at least three others dead, one of them a man in his 80s.
Japan’s government set up an emergency management center at the prime minister’s office and some 54,000 rescuers from the military, police and fire departments were dispatched across a wide swathe of southwestern and western Japan.
“There are still many people missing and others in need of help, we are working against time,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.
Emergency warnings for severe rain remained in effect for three prefectures, with 300 mm (11 inches) predicted to fall by Monday morning in parts of the smallest main island of Shikoku.
Evacuation orders remained in place for some 2 million people and another 2.3 million were advised to evacuate, although rain had stopped and floodwaters retreated in some areas. Landslide warnings were issued in over a quarter of the nation’s prefectures.
Rain began late last week as the remnants of a typhoon fed into a seasonal rainy front, with warm air pouring in from the Pacific making it still more active – a pattern similar to one that set off flooding in southwestern Japan exactly a year ago that left dozens dead.
Though the Japanese government monitors weather conditions closely and issues warnings from an early stage, the fact that much of the country outside major cities is mountainous and building takes place on virtually every bit of usable land leaves the nation vulnerable to disasters.
Reforestation policies after World War Two that saw many mountains logged and replanted with trees whose roots are less able to retain water has also contributed to the danger.
Reporting by Elaine Lies