HIROSHIMA – Police, firefighters and Ground Self-Defense Force personnel continued searching for survivors Thursday after heavy rain triggered mudslides in the city of Hiroshima.
The death toll had risen to 39 with 51 people missing by Thursday evening, according to the prefectural police.
Families of the victims and those reported missing were asked to visit the Asaminami Ward Police Station to help identify bodies that emergency workers had moved in the district.
Among the names disclosed by police were those of 11-year-old elementary school student Haruto Hirano and his 2-year-old brother, Towa, who were buried alive in their home.
Haruto was a forward in a local soccer team, according to people who know the family. When he wasn’t in school he was often seen playing soccer with his younger brother in front of their house, they said.
The mudslides also claimed the life of Noriko Sawamoto, 77, whose body was discovered outside her home in Asaminami Ward. She was swept away while sleeping beside her husband, according to an acquaintance of her son.
About 10 years ago she and her husband, a former elementary school teacher, hosted an exchange student from Germany, the acquaintances said. The Sawamotos lived with their son and his family.
Mudslides also killed 53-year-old firefighter Noriyoshi Masaoka, who led one of the rescue teams in Asakita Ward. Masaoka, who had 35 years of experience and had become a lieutenant in the Hiroshima fire department, was found buried with 3-year-old Kazuki Hatanaka in his arms, whom he had tried to rescue.
“He had a lot of experience and knowledge and was devoted to his job,” said one of Masaoka’s colleagues. “He also had a very strong sense of justice.”
In the early hours of Wednesday, Masaoka, who had been appointed deputy leader of one of the rescue teams, was part of a four-man team sent to rescue a group of eight residents whose homes had been engulfed by mud.
A 41-year-old construction worker who witnessed the rescue effort said he saw a man who is believed to be the father of Kazuki Hatanaka, handing the 3-year-old over to Masaoka. But he said the two were hit by another mudslide that occurred soon afterward and heard the father calling the boy’s name.
The city also confirmed that Shigeki Takeuchi, 54, was found dead in his home. Takeuchi headed several development projects as an official with the Hiroshima Municipal Government’s Roads and Transportation Bureau, and had also worked at the transport ministry.
Kaoru Takeiwa, one of Takeuchi’s subordinates saw his boss’ name on the list of victims Wednesday morning and tried to verify the information. After Takeuchi failed to respond to the phone calls, Takeiwa asked another colleague to visit his house and found out it had been swept away.
According to the Meteorological Agency, the rainfall was heaviest in Asakita Ward, which got 217.5 mm over a three-hour period starting at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.
After the area logged record-high short-term rainfall in excess of 100 mm per hour at around 3:50 a.m., evacuation advisories were issued approximately 30 minutes later.