MINAMATA, Kumamoto Pref. – The bodies of a 9-month-old boy and four other people that had been swept out to sea were found Wednesday, bringing the death toll from flooding and mudslides in western Kyushu over the weekend to 20.
Two people are still missing.
Search and rescue teams identified the baby as Manato Tanaka from the Kojo district of Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, after recovering his body in waters off Akune, Kagoshima Prefecture, in the afternoon.
The coast guard found the body of Noriaki Hayashida, 43, the baby’s grandfather, in waters off Minamata during search operations.
Earlier in the day, a fishing boat found the body of Fujio Yoshigai, 41, in the Yatsushiro Sea, some 13 km from where he was caught up in a mudslide that hit the Hogawachi district of Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture.
A Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel found the body of Kiyoshi Yoshigai, 52, later in the morning in a bay on the western coast of the prefecture about 24 km from where he vanished in Hogawachi.
About 500 police officers, firefighters and Ground Self-Defense Force rescuers expanded their search area in Minamata earlier in the morning to search for the missing.
The body of Taeko Ogawa, 62, was found in the town of Kinkai, Nagasaki Prefecture. She went missing after the car she was in was swept away Sunday morning by a flash flood.
Fifteen other bodies found as of Tuesday in Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures have been identified.
Coast guard patrol ships and GSDF helicopters searched the Minamata River as well as the coasts of the Yatsushiro Sea into which the river flows.
On the ground, firefighters continued to remove mud and rocks with small cranes, while private organizations used trained rescue dogs to search for the missing under buried homes.
A little too late
MINAMATA, Kumamoto Pref. (Kyodo) The city of Minamata, hit by a deadly mudslide over the weekend, had just been selected as a model city for an experimental mudslide warning system, according to sources.
It was asked July 9 to become a test model for a system being developed by the Meteorological Agency and the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, the sources said.
Preparations for the experiment were to begin in autumn after the municipal government gave its consent.
Mudslides often hit unexpectedly, making it difficult to evacuate in time.
The new system is intended to help local governments and residents make evacuation decisions by providing them with highly accurate information on mudslide dangers. This is to be achieved through observations, predictions by the weather agency and data from local governments.
“It will take time to combine and adjust data of the agency and prefectures,” said Josuke Ichizawa, head of the Meteorological Agency’s forecast division. But in light of the tragedy over the weekend, “We would like to be able to provide accurate warning information soon.”
Under the system, specific announcements will be made regarding predictions and warnings, such as: “The danger of mudslides due to heavy rainfall within the next two hours is expected to be very high. Please be extremely cautious.”
Kumamoto, Shimane and three other prefectures were selected as experimental models this year. Tests began in four other prefectures last year.
In Kumamoto Prefecture, three cities and towns, including Minamata, were candidates for the experiment because they are considered high-risk locations for mudslides.
Kumamoto Prefecture and the Meteorological Agency’s regional weather observatory were to conduct the first stage of simulations by September. by compiling warning data using past cases of heavy rainfall. They were then to begin delivering warning information to the model localities during heavy downpours.
In Sunday’s case, the amount of water absorbed in the soil — which the weather agency uses to issue warnings on mudslides — was the third-highest in the past decade.
The rainfall data collected by the prefectural government near the site of the mudslide exceeded the danger level at around 3:45 a.m. The disaster hit the Hogawachi and Fukagawa districts of Minamata between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m.