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Heavy rains in western Japan trigger evacuation orders for around 847,000 residents

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

Torrential rain hit southwestern Japan on Wednesday morning, prompting local governments to instruct thousands of people to evacuate as rivers overflowed and at least three people were left dead in what the weather agency called an “unprecedented downpour.”

In Saga Prefecture, in the Kyushu region, Saga Station was flooded and a number of vehicles were seen submerged. Landslides were confirmed in the city of Takeo and rivers in Ogi and Imari overflowed, flooding nearby farm fields.

A man was confirmed dead after being found in a minicar that had been swept away by floodwaters on a road in Takeo, and a woman was found dead in a flooded home in the city. Another man was confirmed dead after escaping from his submerged light vehicle during flooding in Yame, Fukuoka Prefecture, according to police.

A woman was feared dead after her light vehicle plunged into a flooded ditch in the nearby city of Saga, the police said, where a number of vehicles were seen submerged.

“It usually takes about five minutes to come to the station from my home, but (today) it took me an hour as it was difficult to walk in water up to my knees,” said Takaaki Matsuo, 56, in the city.

As of noon, Fukuoka, Saga and Nagasaki prefectures had issued evacuation orders to around 847,000 residents. The Meteorological Agency issued its maximum level 5 warning for floods and landslides in the region. The warning was lifted in the afternoon.

As landslides occurred and both the Ushizu River in the cities of Ogi and Taku and the Matsuura River in Imari burst their banks, Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi requested the Self-Defense Forces be dispatched to provide disaster relief.

Kyushu Railway Co. canceled some services, mainly in the three prefectures that were severely affected.

“We are seeing unprecedented levels of heavy rains in cities where we issued special warnings,” weather agency official Yasushi Kajiwara said in a hastily organized news conference Wednesday morning. “It is a situation where you should do your best to protect your lives.”

He also urged those currently facing evacuation advisories to act before the warning was upgraded further.

“Please don’t wait,” he said.

In the early morning, 110 mm of rain was recorded in the city of Saga and 109.5 mm in Shiroishi, Saga Prefecture, in a one-hour period, according to the agency.

For the 24 hours through 6 p.m. Thursday, the agency forecast up to 150 mm of rain in northern Kyushu and the Tokai area, 120 mm in the Chugoku and Hokuriku areas and 100 mm in the Kanto-Koshin area, which includes Tokyo as well as Yamagata and Nagano prefectures.

Footage on local television showed rivers swollen by rainwater and parked cars surrounded by muddy brown water rising nearly up to the vehicles’ roofs.

In some parts of the affected areas, small landslides have already been reported.

Authorities regularly urge people to take evacuation orders seriously, particularly since disastrous heavy rains last summer in the west killed more than 200 people.

Many of the deaths were blamed on the fact that evacuation orders were issued too late and some people failed to follow them. Entire neighborhoods were buried beneath landslides or submerged in floodwaters during the disasters.

Major manufacturers with production centers in northern Kyushu suspended operations of their factories Wednesday.

Toyota Motor Co.’s factory in Miyawaka, Fukuoka Prefecture, halted production of auto parts for the Lexus luxury brand in the afternoon, while Canon Inc. called off the day’s operations at its digital camera factory in Nagasaki Prefecture, the two companies said.

The suspensions were aimed at securing the safety of factory workers, according to the firms, who both confirmed that the factories themselves had not sustained any damage from the heavy rain.

Other companies that saw operations affected include electronics giant Panasonic Corp. and major tire-maker Bridgestone Corp.

Logistics in northern Kyushu were also affected. Major shipping firm Yamato Transport Co. said deliveries were significantly delayed in Fukuoka, Saga and Nagasaki prefectures and part of Oita Prefecture on Wednesday. Japan Post also reported delays in deliveries of letter and packets.

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