FUKUOKA – Six days after torrential rain hit the Kyushu region, about 180 people were still cut off in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures and around 1,700 remained in evacuation centers as rescuers fought through mud to search for the missing.
The death toll as of Monday afternoon had risen to 22, with 20 people still missing.
A total of 2,080 Self-Defense Forces personnel, firefighters and others were engaged in search and rescue operations in Asakura, Fukuoka Prefecture, one of the hardest-hit areas.
Many of those in the cut-off areas are elderly, and Fukuoka officials were using helicopters to bring them medicine, food and other necessities.
Among those in the evacuation centers, 78-year-old Yoshihide Sasaki said he was suffering from constipation after five days in one of the facilities.
“Living as an evacuee is unbearable for an elderly person,” he said. “Since my teeth are bad, I want to eat something soft.”
The Meteorological Agency warned of further mudslides, as some areas in the southwest could see more heavy rain.
The police were still investigating a possible link between the torrential rain and five bodies discovered Saturday in the Ariake Sea, dozens of kilometers from flood-hit areas. They suspect the victims were carried downstream by the Chikugo River, which flows through the disaster area.
With many students in flooded areas having a difficult time getting around, some schools decided to cut the current term short and move up the start of summer vacation by around 10 days.
Koki Tokunaga, 11, who attends an elementary school in Asakura, said: “I feel tired because I was cleaning up the mud from the road in front of my house with my family.”
In a junior high school in Asakura, around 160 students gathered for a ceremony to mark the end of the term and shared a moment of silence.
“We have learned the importance of everyday life,” Principal Mitsuru Sakai told them. “We can’t surrender to feelings of distress. There may be painful, sad and hard times but let’s look up and work hard for reconstruction.”
Volunteers from within and outside Fukuoka began gathering in Asakura to help remove sand and soil from houses.
A public official in his 30s said he took a day off from work in Hiroshima Prefecture to help.
“Kyushu is my home. It’s not just someone else’s problem,” the Oita native said.
At the home of Ito Doi, 83, five male volunteers helped carry muddy furniture and tatami out of the house, where she lives alone.
“We are very grateful for the help,” said Doi’s 54-year-old daughter. “I want to have this place livable again for my mother.”
A municipal official said Asakura is hoping to accelerate the recovery work with the help of volunteers.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday that the government is aware of people’s needs in the disaster zone and will quickly provide supplies, including air conditioners for the evacuation centers.
The land ministry decided to send more staff to Kyushu because some municipalities lack the manpower and know-how to cope with the disaster.
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