Hiroshima rescuers resume search as death toll hits 49

Kyodo

As rescuers removed mud and picked through rubble three days after torrential rain triggered deadly landslides, the death toll in the city of Hiroshima rose to 49 on Saturday, with 41 missing.

Volunteers are trickling in from across the country to join the effort as police, firefighters and soldiers work to remove tons of mud and debris hampering rescue operations in the northern part of the city.

The death toll rose by nine on Friday, while the number of missing dropped to 41 from 47. Police say more might be unaccounted for simply because they got buried and their absence hasn’t been noticed yet.

As of Saturday, roughly 2,000 residents, mostly elderly, had taken shelter at 16 schools and other public facilities in the affected districts, many showing signs of fatigue.

Medical staff are on stand-by at those facilities, providing health consultations for people seeking shelter and medical treatment to people who sustained injuries while removing debris.

Most of the damage took place in Asaminami and Asakita wards, where mudslides triggered by the long stretch of heavy rain from late Tuesday to early Wednesday buried or washed away houses and apartments, trapping many caught asleep in the early morning hours.

A record 217.5 mm of rain fell from 1:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. in Asakita Ward, but despite early calls about mudslides, the Hiroshima Municipal Government didn’t issue its first evacuation advisory until 4:15 a.m.

Experts say the survival rate for people trapped without food or water in a disaster drops significantly after the first 72 hours, which passed early Saturday.

The city government said that mudslides have occurred at 205 locations in the city and 400 roads and bridges have been damaged.

In the two wards, volunteer centers have been set up to coordinate aid activities, mainly to help residents clean up their houses. But they have only been accepting volunteers from within the prefecture because requesting help on a nationwide scale could create even more chaos by flooding the centers with volunteers and supplies before they’re ready.

Kohei Kitamura, a 17-year-old local high school student, said, “I volunteered even though I have to study hard for the upcoming college entrance examinations. What I can do may be just small, but I thought I had to do something.”