FUKUOKA – Overflowing rivers swallowed up homes and mudslides forced residents to run for their lives.
That was the scene Friday as heavy rain that began Wednesday continued to wreak havoc in Oita and Fukuoka prefectures.
Panicked residents bombarded the Fukuoka Prefectural Police with some 3,000 emergency phone calls in the space of about a day while officials struggled to grasp the scale of the damage caused by the torrential rain.
As of early Friday afternoon, at least 26 people had been reported missing, and the Self-Defense Forces were working with firefighters to sift through the debris for any sign of them.
In the Yamada district in Asakura, Fukuoka Prefecture, Toshihiko Kato, 87, and his wife, Mikiko, 85, went missing in the wake of the downpour. Neighbors helped rescuers dig up mud around their house and their bodies were found Thursday afternoon.
The Asakura Fire Department also received a request for help from a man in the Takagi district who said three family members were unaccounted for.
Volunteer firefighters launched a rescue mission but could not get to their residence because the roads nearby had collapsed from a mudslide. The mood turned fro optimism to despair as phone calls went unanswered and time passed without any signs of progress.
“I’m at a loss about what to do,” said Mamoru Kabu, 42, leader of the local volunteer firefighting unit Thursday night.
In the village of Toho in Fukuoka Prefecture, another three people were cut off by landslides. Giant trees blocked access to a road leading to the area they were in. Rescuers struggled to make headway as they sank into the deep mud.
But on Friday morning, about 70 SDF personnel and firefighters headed to the area carrying rescue equipment on their backs. In a park close to Asakura City Hall, SDF and police helicopters arrived at a pace of 10 per hour Friday morning, where the rescued were reunited with their family members and acquaintances.
Satsuki Ide, a 73-year-old farmer whose home was crushed by a mudslide, had taken shelter at a neighbor’s house nearby.
“I’m really thankful that I’m alive,” Ide said while embracing a 47-year-old son. “I never thought a disaster would be this scary.”