Six confirmed dead in Kyushu deluge as search for missing continues

Death toll, scale of destruction unclear in once-in-decades storm

Kyodo

Search and rescue efforts continued Thursday as torrential rain devastated parts of Kyushu. Six people were confirmed dead and at least four were missing in Fukuoka Prefecture following massive flooding and mudslides.

In Oita Prefecture, 15 people can’t be contacted and are feared missing as well, officials said.

In the two prefectures, some 700 households have been stranded after heavy rain cut access to communities, the officials said.

The government dispatched about 7,800 rescuers, including police officers, firefighters and Self-Defense Forces personnel, as the downpours triggered emergency warnings in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures.

In Asakura, Fukuoka Prefecture, a body was discovered buried under driftwood following heavy rain, while officials in the city of Hita, Oita Prefecture, said a 43-year-old man is believed to have died after being engulfed in a mudslide. The body of a 79-year-old man was also discovered in a river in the city.

A 67-year-old man in Hiroshima Prefecture remains unaccounted for. He is feared to have been swept away because he routinely checks a water channel near his home every morning to fulfill his duty to the local community, the police said.

“The government will do its utmost to save victims and take stock of the damage, placing priority on people’s lives,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Thursday morning, adding that it may consider expanding the scale of the rescue effort depending on the level of devastation.

An additional 5,000 SDF members are on standby for deployment, he said.

He also said that police in the two prefectures had not yet confirmed the safety of people related to about 20 emergency calls.

The Meteorological Agency urged “utmost vigilance” in Fukuoka and Oita, saying a once-in-decades disaster is possible as atmospheric conditions remain unstable.

According to the Fukuoka Prefectural Government, the 11 people who remain unaccounted for may have been swept away. Police have confirmed the safety of three prefectural workers in Fukuoka and a man in his 60s in Oita who was reported missing on Wednesday.

As of 10:30 a.m. Thursday, about 450,000 people comprising close to 186,000 households were ordered to evacuate their homes and seek shelter. The rain also disrupted rail traffic and left up to 6,300 homes without power in Fukuoka, Kumamoto and Oita prefectures.

Major mobile phone carriers NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Group Corp. said Thursday that rainfall disrupted smartphone and mobile phone services in some areas in northern Kyushu with no recovery in sight.

“We have yet to grasp the full picture of the damage,” disaster management minister Jun Matsumoto told a ministerial meeting called Thursday. He ordered rescue personnel to work closely with municipal governments to save lives.

In Asakura, hit hard after a river flooded, 54 people, including 18 students, were left stranded at an elementary school. About 1,700 homes in the city were cut off from drinking water supply in the morning, which saw record precipitation of 545.5 mm over a 24-hour period through 11:40 a.m. Thursday.

Kyosuke Hosaka, a 65-year-old resident of Asakura, narrowly escaped a flood of muddy water that broke through the entrance of his home, shattering windows and washing away furniture.

“The water flowed inside the home while making a terrible destructive sound,” he said, describing how the water level reached his chest in a second.

Hosaka escaped to higher ground by swimming and holding onto drifting objects. “It was really a near-death experience,” he said.

Among those who were stranded overnight Wednesday in their homes in Asakura, Yuki Oyabu, 47, said: “We saw what was just like a river right in front of us. We could not even go to an evacuation center.” She was compelled to stay at home with her two daughters.

A senior official in Asakura expressed concern over the as-yet-unknown extent of the damage, saying, “The affected area is wide and the condition is much worse” than the heavy rainfall that hit Kyushu five years ago, which left more than 30 people dead or missing.

The heavy rain was brought about by the formation of cumulonimbus clouds that remained over the area in line with the movement of a seasonal rain front.

Rainfall of over 50 mm per hour was registered in some areas in Kyushu and further precipitation is expected through Friday, the weather agency said.

In the city of Hita, an iron bridge used by JR Kyushu’s Kyudai Line over the Kagetsu River was swept away by flooding.

Due to damage from the heavy rain, major companies, including Daihatsu Motor Co. and Yamato Transport Co., were forced to suspend or delay operations in the area.

Daihatsu halted operations at its plant in Nakatsu, Oita Prefecture, with resumption eyed for Friday. The firm had already halted engine production at its plant in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Wednesday night.

Yamato said its distribution service has been disrupted in areas mainly in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures due to flooding.

Japan Post Co. said delivery of letters and parcels in the two prefectures could be delayed by up to a day.

Supermarket operator Aeon Co. said deliveries have been delayed to some of its stores in Oita but said outlets are open during regular business hours.

Sapporo Breweries Ltd. said its operations have not been affected despite rain leaking into its plant in Hita, Oita Prefecture.

Honda Motor Co., Canon Inc. and Renesas Electronics Corp. said their plants in the area are running as usual.