HIROSHIMA – At least 36 people were confirmed dead and seven remained missing after torrential rain sparked flooding and landslides in the city of Hiroshima on Wednesday, according to police.
A 2-year-old boy was pronounced dead after being buried for two hours in a mudslide, while a man and a 77-year-old woman were also confirmed dead in the city, Hiroshima rescue workers said. A 53-year-old firefighter was later killed during a rescue after being caught in a landslide.
More than 100 mm of rain per hour was recorded in Hiroshima early Wednesday, triggering at least 20 reports of people buried alive or washed away in flooding.
The Hiroshima Prefectural Government has requested the aid of the Ground Self-Defense Force for rescue operations.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructed government bodies to make all-out efforts to rescue those affected. Abe cut short a round of golf in Yamanashi Prefecture, where he was vacationing, following reports of the disaster and returned to Tokyo.
Facing reporters later on Wednesday in Tokyo, Abe warned that the area could be hit by heavy rain again, and that further rainfall could potentially trigger another disaster.
He also issued an order to dispatch 470 members of the Self-Defense Forces to bolster rescue activities in Hiroshima, bringing the total number involved in the rescue effort to about 500.
“I’ve ordered the whole government to engage in rescue activities and deal with the situation in an integrated manner,” Abe told reporters at the prime minister’s office.
According to the Meteorological Agency, heavy rainfall of about 120 mm per hour was recorded in Hiroshima Prefecture at around 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday. An evacuation advisory was issued in areas deemed susceptible to landslides.
The situation in the area has heightened residents’ fears as more rain and flooding are expected.
Yukio Takamura, 58, who lives just 100 meters from the 77-year-old woman confirmed dead in Wednesday’s landslide, was among the survivors. He said the downpour had started suddenly at around 8 p.m. on Tuesday and that he had been awakened by the sound of thunder at around 2 a.m. on Wednesday.
At that time, Takamura was in his bedroom on the first floor of his two-story wooden house, together with his wife and son.
Takamura said he started to feel worried around 4 a.m. Wednesday when the house began shaking and making a roaring sound.
He then found himself sat in his garden, covered in mud. His family had also managed to escape the flow of mud and debris, he added.
“My house was built around 100 years ago, but this is the first time it’s been affected by the landslide,” said Takamura, whose leg was injured in the disaster. “I was really scared.”
The last time the city of Hiroshima was hit by rain-induced landslides was in June 1999. Thirty-two people were killed or confirmed missing at the time, according to the prefectural government officials.
The landslides occurred in a hazardous area composed of weathered granite soil. This type of soil is believed to become brittle during heavy rainfall.