Hopes of finding survivors were fading yesterday as rescue workers carried out house-to-house searches after days of deadly floods and landslides that have claimed 156 lives in Japan’s worst weather-related disaster for decades.
The record downpours that began last week have stopped and receding flood waters have laid bare the destruction that has cut a swathe through the west of the country.
In the city of Kurashiki, the flooding engulfed entire districts at one point, forcing some people to their rooftops to wait for rescue.
Rescue workers were going door-to-door, looking for survivors – or victims – of the disaster.
“It’s what we call a grid operation, where we are checking every single house to see if there are people still trapped inside them,” an official with the local Okayama prefecture
“We know it’s a race against time, we are trying as hard as we can.”
Hideto Yamanaka was leading a team of around 60 firefighters dispatched from outside the prefecture searching homes. “I’m afraid elderly people who were living alone may have failed to escape,” said
“Physically weak people may have been late in getting out when it suddenly started raining hard, swamping the area,” he said.
As night fell, rescuers continued searches, “but we still don’t know if we will carry out the operation around the clock,” said Akiko Harada, a spokeswoman at the disaster management section of the city of Hiroshima, where 14 people were still unaccounted for.
In the Mabi district of Kurashiki, the water left behind a fine yellow silt that has transformed the area into moonscape.
Cars driving through kicked up clouds of dust. People walking around wore medical masks or covered their mouths with small towels to protect themselves against the particulates.
Stores were still closed, and inside one barber’s shop the red sofas, customer chairs, and standing hair dryers were all covered with the same silt.
Fumiko Inokuchi, 61, was inside her home, sorting through the damage caused by floods that submerged the entire first floor.
She escaped the house on Saturday, crossing the street to take shelter in a three-storey care home for the elderly, from where she watched in horror as the waters rose.
“I saw my house sink underwater and I couldn’t do anything at all, there was just nothing I could do. I felt helpless,” she said, retrieving a photo of her children playing baseball.
“I got married here, and we built this house two years afterwards. We raised our three small sons to adulthood here, there are so many memories,” she said, her eyes welling with tears.
It is Japan’s deadliest weather-related disaster in more than three decades, and has sparked national grief.
On Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cancelled a four-stop foreign trip as the death toll rose, and he will visit Okayama today.
Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said yesterday that at least 156 people had been killed. Media reports said dozens more were missing and the toll was expected to rise further.
Around 75,000 police, firemen and troops have been deployed in the search and rescue operation across parts of central and western Japan, Suga said, warning that hot weather posed new risks.
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