FUKUOKA - Rescuers raced against time Saturday in Kyushu to find those who disappeared in the aftermath of days of torrential rain that triggered deadly floods and mudslides across the island.
Rescuers are reporting severe difficulty navigating the massive amount of debris. They are trying to find as many people as possible in the crucial 72-hour period for surviving the deluge, which began on Wednesday.
On Saturday, the death toll rose to 18, with about 30 people missing.
The disaster has forced about 1,300 to evacuate. Shelters were filled with people unable to contact loved ones. Others, their homes and fields swept away, were unsure what to do. Many were simply exhausted.
The bodies of Yukari Eto, 26, her 1-year-old son Yuya, and Eto’s mother, Reiko Fuchigami, 63 — were found in Asakura, Fukuoka Prefecture, the local government said Saturday. The son was found in her mother’s arms.
Eto, who had been expecting another child in August, lived in a separate house in Asakura but often visited her parents’ home with her son.
“She might have been at her parents’ home to prepare for the birth of her second child when the heavy rain hit,” said a 26-year-old woman who had been a friend of Eto since childhood.
The two-story house was apparently swept away by a flash flood that crushed the first floor and filled it with mud and timber.
Residents quoted rescuers as saying their bodies were found inside the house.
Eto’s father, who was out at the time and survived, embraced the three bodies at the site.
“I had no words for him,” said a 66-year-old neighbor.
About 180 people took shelter at a junior high school gymnasium in Asakura. Many were resting on tatami, usually used for judo, and other mats in the gym. No air conditioning was available.
Evacuees complained that they couldn’t sleep because of the heat, didn’t have clean clothes and wanted to eat hot food.
Yumiko Tanaka, 77, who was on a business trip to the city, said she still couldn’t reach her husband and mother-in-law in the nearby village of Toho.
“I’m worried sick,” she said.
In Hita, Oita Prefecture, many others were sheltering at the city’s culture center.
“I saw a house nearby swept away in a landslide right before my eyes … I just can’t get that image out of my head. I can’t sleep because I don’t know what to do from here on out,” said Megumi Mino, 51, who fled with her 78-year-old mother.
“I didn’t think there would be this much damage,” she said. “I want to find a consulting center where I can get advice on where to live and so on.”
Another evacuee, Sachiko Nagase, 72, said with a sigh, “If this goes on, it will be exhausting. I want to eat my pickled vegetables on rice.”
The Meteorological Agency warned residents to remain alert for mudslides and other hazards because heavy rain was forecast to continue through Saturday.
In Saga Prefecture, five bodies were found in the Ariake Sea.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Saturday that 1,022 people had been rescued since the government dispatched 12,000 police officers, firefighters and Self-Defense Forces troops to help.
They are trying to restore access to residents in isolated parts of Toho. In Asakura, one of the areas hardest hit, work to remove mud and trees from roads continued in a bid to reconnect isolated areas.
Blocked sections of the Kyushu Expressway have already been cleared, according to West Nippon Expressway Co.