National

Transport networks across western Japan still crippled as death toll from downpours reaches 200

Kyodo

Torrential rain across western Japan has severed transportation links in the region, with the discovery of more bodies on Thursday pushing the death toll up to 200.

The number of casualties announced by the National Police Agency could grow further as more than 60 people are still missing, according to local authorities.

The transport ministry said West Japan Railway Co. and other operators of 27 train lines suffered damage at more than 100 locations.

As of Thursday morning, most of the railway companies had said they would be unable to resume service within the next few days. Some were struggling to gather enough people to check track integrity and facility conditions.

“We have to prioritize (which train services) can resume, according to their importance,” a JR West official said.

Over 60 of the damaged locations along the train lines have been hit by landslides, with many of them completely submerged.

Many bridges and roads were also severely damaged, affecting distribution networks as well as routes to and from schools, officials said.

More than 70,000 rescuers continued to search for missing people in the affected areas, including the hardest-hit prefectures of Hiroshima, Okayama and Ehime.

About 6,700 people remained in shelters as of Thursday morning, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. That number has dropped from Sunday’s tally of more than 30,000.

Volunteers and supplies have begun to arrive in affected areas, although a local official in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, said there are “not enough people or vehicles” to distribute the abundant aid.

“Since supplies have been given by people nationwide, we want to deliver them swiftly to accommodate the needs of evacuation centers,” the official said.

As skies cleared across the region temperatures soared above 30 C in many places, raising concerns about possible heatstroke and the spread of infectious diseases among evacuees and rescuers as well as volunteers entering the areas.

Some were already feeling unwell under the summer heat as they lined up in the open air for a water supply truck at an evacuation center in Mihara, Hiroshima Prefecture, despite the presence of a portable air conditioning device.

To support efforts to maintain public health, the government’s Disaster Health Emergency Assistance Team started working in Kurashiki, also in the prefecture, in its first mission since its inception in March.

“We want to demonstrate what we have been training for as a center for summarizing and resolving problems such as food poisoning at evacuation centers, and secondary harm accompanying prolonged evacuation,” said Yoko So, a doctor who leads the team of experts in public health.

The government has set up a disaster response task force, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Ehime Prefecture on Friday.

“I saw the tremendous scars (left by the rain),” Abe said following his visit to Okayama Prefecture on Wednesday during a task force meeting, while revealing that the government has secured about 71,000 dwellings as temporary housing for people affected by the disaster.

Parts of the region saw as much as four times the average July rainfall during 11 days through Sunday, the Meteorological Agency said. Many locations logged their heaviest rainfall on record for 24-hour, 48-hour and 72-hour periods as a rainy front hovered over the region and a typhoon neared the archipelago, according to the agency.