Tokyo/Atami, Shizuoka Pref. – The end of the three-day window seen as crucial for finding survivors of a large mudslide in Shizuoka Prefecture passed Tuesday, as local authorities revised the number of people considered missing from 64 to 27 and the death toll rose by three to seven.
The three bodies that had been found were that of a man and two women, the municipal government in the resort city of Atami said.
The initial 72-hour period elapsed at around 10:30 a.m. in the city of Atami, where 1,100 firefighters, police and Self-Defense Forces personnel continued to remove debris and search mud-swamped houses.
“We’re hoping to find and rescue as many more people as possible,” Atami Mayor Sakae Saito told reporters Tuesday morning.
Hiroki Onuma, an Atami official, said the city had not yet received any new information on survivors. “People in the field are working hard in their search and rescue operation,” he said.
The operation heavily depends on rescuers working with their hands, as the use of heavy machinery is deemed too dangerous for any survivors who may be alive under mud.
Local authorities had been trying to locate 64 people registered as residents in the affected area, a hot-spring resort southwest of Tokyo. Authorities disclosed the names of the 64 people on Monday night to call for information about their whereabouts.
As a result, the number dropped to 22, but police said there were reports that five more people could not be reached, bringing the total number of missing people at 27 as of 8 p.m. Tuesday.
The initial list may have included those who were no longer living at their registered addresses when the mudslide occurred on Saturday, destroying at least 130 houses.
On Tuesday, a total of 577 people were still taking shelter in two local hotels and an elementary school.
The local government decided to keep 11 elementary and junior high schools closed along with four kindergartens as warnings against heavy rain and mudslide remained in place.
Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Central) said Tuesday morning it had briefly suspended services on the Tokaido shinkansen line between Atami and the city of Odawara, in Kanagawa Prefecture, after being warned by firefighters about the risk of mudslides.
Local authorities suspect the massive Atami mudslide was exacerbated by about 54,000 cubic meters of soil that had been brought to a mountainside for construction work.
Some 100,000 cubic meters of soil in total collapsed into a nearby river, traveling a distance of about 2 kilometers.
According to authorities, the collapsed soil was brought to Atami in 2007 by a real estate firm based in Odawara. A former executive of the company said the firm had reported to the city about the plan to bring in the soil before work began.
“We’ve had heavy rain before, but the soil has never collapsed,” the executive said.
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