National

Desperate searches as dozens feared dead in Japan floods

Kyodo, AFP-Jiji

More torrential rain struck the Kyushu region on Monday, causing flooding and mudslides in areas other than Kumamoto Prefecture, where at least 49 people have been confirmed dead, with rescuers racing against the clock to save others still missing following the weekend’s deluge.

The weather agency issued its highest-level warning for heavy rain for parts of Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Saga prefectures, urging people to take all possible measures to protect their lives.

It also said residents in those areas should be on high alert through Tuesday morning. As of 6 p.m. Monday, more than 330,000 people from about 142,500 households were ordered to evacuate, according to a Kyodo News survey based on information provided by local authorities.

In Kumamoto, bad weather was preventing some rescue efforts, local officials said. “Because of the heavy rain, we were forced to cancel some emergency flights of helicopters over the disaster zone,” local disaster management official Tsubasa Miyamoto said.

A firefighter in Kagoshima said they used boats to rescue 11 people, but conditions were making it hard to reach others stranded. “Calls came from people telling us that they wanted to flee their home but they could not do it on their own,” he said.
“Some roads are submerged and you cannot drive through them.”

In Kumamoto, Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures, about 254,000 residents were instructed to evacuate as of early Monday afternoon.

Of the 49 fatalities in flood-ravaged Kumamoto, 14 were from the Senjuen nursing home near the Kuma River, which overran its banks at 11 locations and broke one levee, according to the prefectural government.

More people remain missing or are feared dead. About 6,100 homes along the river were submerged, and roughly 1,060 hectares of land were flooded, the infrastructure ministry said, adding that 11 bridges were destroyed.

A number of communities are isolated due to severed roads, among other damage, with more than 80 schools being closed in Kumamoto Prefecture.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. said about 4,000 homes in the prefecture continued to be without electricity as of Monday afternoon.

Some 1,500 people had taken shelter at 86 evacuation centers across the prefecture as of Sunday afternoon as the downpour caused mudslides and floods, severing roads and leaving many houses without water or power.

“The water level of rivers suddenly rose in the Saturday rain. I am worried because I don’t know how the rain is today,” said Shoko Matsunaga, 49, who has been staying at an evacuation center in Ashikita since Sunday evening with her 2-year-old grandchild.

Given the risk of the novel coronavirus spreading, the evacuation centers have taken precautionary measures to avoid crowding and close contact of people in confined spaces, while readying sanitizers and checking the temperatures of people who seek shelter.

“It is important not to let people bring in the novel coronavirus,” said Yatsushiro city official Hideki Motomura, 48, who is working at an evacuation center in Yatsushiro, serving more than 100 people.

A local fire department said 69 people had turned up at its headquarters located on higher ground, but officials asked some to move to other evacuation centers to avoid crowding.

“We had capacity for 60 evacuees here in the past. But considering social distancing, 30 is appropriate this time, so we had to ask some evacuees to move to another shelter,” said Toshihiko Nakamura, an official of the fire department.

Some evacuees have opted to stay inside their vehicles for fear of becoming infected with the virus, so they have been told to register with an evacuation center and handed leaflets on how to avoid economy class syndrome, in which people develop blood clots from staying in the same position for a long time.

At one evacuation center in Amakusa, a person thought to have the coronavirus was told to go to another evacuation center so they could self-isolate in a single room.

Some 100 evacuation centers opened in Kagoshima, Kagoshima Prefecture, where rooms are periodically ventilated, and people are asked to social distance.

The city said the number of people at each center was relatively small as it had notified its residents since June to check the safety of their homes and consider evacuating to the homes of relatives or friends in times of disasters to reduce the risk of infection at shelters.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday more than 40,000 personnel from police and fire departments, the coast guard and Self-Defense troops were conducting search and rescue operations throughout the night.

Coronavirus banner