HIROSHIMA – Hundreds of thousands of people in western Japan affected by devastating floods and landslides continued to struggle on Wednesday with water outages, while the death toll in the country’s worst rain-related disaster in decades climbed to at least 176, with scores more still missing.
At least 254,084 homes are still cut off from water supplies in Hiroshima, Ehime and Okayama prefectures, those hardest hit by last week’s torrential rains, according to the welfare ministry.
About 1,100 homes in nine other prefectures, including Osaka, Yamaguchi and Tokushima, are also without water, and there are no estimated time scales for the supply being restored, the ministry said.
Many of those who managed to evacuate their homes have relied on water supplied by local municipalities and the Self-Defense Forces.
Fourteen cities and towns in Hiroshima Prefecture have been affected by cuts to the water supply following a number of mudslides that burst water pipes and caused power outages at distribution reservoirs.
In the city of Kure, where more than 10 people died, water was distributed at schools and other public facilities after a center managing the water supply was destroyed by mud and sand. The suspension has affected around 93,000 homes — most of the city’s residents.
Masakazu Furusho, 65, was one of many residents who came to a water distribution point at an elementary school in Kure.
“I have to go back and forth between my home and the school three times a day,” he said, adding that he wants to know when the water system will be restored.
In Ehime Prefecture, water supply facilities were destroyed in nine municipalities, affecting some hospitals, with local officials saying they are not yet able to fully assess the extent of the damage.
Some municipalities in Okayama, including Kurashiki and Takahashi, are still finding it difficult to supply drinkable water as purification plants have been submerged by the flooding.
Susumu Nakano, the head of the Research Center for Management of Disaster and Environment at Tokushima University, said water facilities are often located close to rivers and are vulnerable to floods.
“Compared to earthquakes, there are not enough measures,” he said. “It is necessary to make efforts on the assumption that there will be flooding.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe traveled to Okayama on Wednesday to inspect the extent of the damage and obtain firsthand information about the situation faced by evacuees.
Abe was flown to areas ravaged by landslides and floods in a Self-Defense Forces’ helicopter, to observe damage from the heavy rains that started last Thursday, and was expected to meet with local officials and visit evacuee centers.
In an elementary school gymnasium in the city of Kurashiki, he shook hands and exchanged words with some evacuees.
When an 88-year-old woman expressed concern about what those displaced by the disaster were going to do, Abe mentioned a plan to build temporary housing for them.
More than 50 people lost their lives in Okayama Prefecture alone, in areas including flood-hit Mabicho district in the city of Kurashiki.
Abe was originally scheduled to embark on a trip to Europe and the Middle East on Wednesday, but canceled his travel plans to deal with the disasters.
He is planning to also visit Hiroshima and Ehime prefectures in the near future.
A number of Japanese automakers and electronic firms continued to suspend operations Wednesday at plants in western parts of the country following devastating flooding and landslides.
Mazda Motor Corp. said its headquarters plant in Fuchu, Hiroshima Prefecture, and a factory in Hofu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, remain closed as it is still trying to assess whether its employees can come to work safely.
The two facilities suffered no major damage, but more than 100 employees at the Fuchu plant saw their homes flooded, Mazda said, adding that it is trying to resume production as early as Thursday.
Mitsubishi Motors Corp. said its Mizushima plant in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, one of the hardest-hit areas, remained closed to ensure the safety of its workers.
Panasonic Corp. said it has halted operations at its Okayama plant that manufactures video cameras as it was flooded in the downpours.