Nagano/Takeo, Saga Pref. – Torrential rains lashed much of Japan on Sunday, submerging roads and buildings in the western part of the country, while three people died after a landslide in Nagano Prefecture.
Large parts of Japan, particularly the island of Kyushu, saw record levels of rainfall, causing rivers to overflow and triggering landslides. As of Sunday morning the rain had stopped in much of Kyushu, even as Tokyo and other parts of the country were pounded by the downpour.
A fireman patrolling the area in Okaya, Nagano Prefecture, around 5:30 a.m. called emergency services after seeing a house filled with soil and sand, and people stuck on the second floor. According to the local fire department, five of the eight people in the house at the time were taken to a hospital.
Three of those — Yuki Makibuchi, 41, and her sons Haruki, 12, and Naoki, 7 — were later confirmed dead, the Okaya Municipal Government said. A teenage boy and a man in his 40s who were also in the house at the time were hurt while three escaped injuries.
The city said the mudslide occurred before it issued an evacuation order at 6 a.m. the same day, adding that it plans to investigate whether the timing of the order was appropriate.
In 2006, a mudslide occurred in another part of the city, killing eight people.
In Saikai, Nagasaki Prefecture, two women in their 70s were found dead in a swollen irrigation ditch.
In Soeda, Fukuoka Prefecture, rescue efforts were under way for a woman in her 70s who got trapped in mud that slammed into a house.
A man in his 70s was injured in a mudslide in Kanzaki in neighboring Saga Prefecture.
In Takeo, Saga Prefecture, entire roads were submerged as rescue workers in wetsuits dragged inflatable boats and surveyed the damage. Local residents carried broomsticks and buckets and waded knee-deep in water.
“I’ve experienced three floods like this so far, but this is the worst,” said Toshimi Kusumoto, a 68-year-old doctor whose clinic was flooded.
Kusumoto waited out the rain with his family on the second floor of his house, he said, located just behind the clinic.
The water reached his house, too, meaning most of the appliances on the ground floor would have to be replaced. His garage was bent out of shape, presumably from the pressure of the water.
His son Daigo said their family was prepared for the flooding but was concerned over the frequency at which torrential downpours were pummeling the area, and was considering rebuilding his house to raise the ground level.
He had rebuilt the house only four years ago and it had seen two floods already.
“It’s a bit much if it happens this frequently,” Daigo said, as he hosed down the mud in front of the house.
In 2019, Takeo was hit by a record downpour that killed three people. The government at the time estimated that such a deluge would only happen once every few decades.
“But what can you do?” said Toshimi, with a slight shrug.
Takayuki Haraguchi, 68, who works as a caretaker at a local sports center, had come to survey the damage briefly when it was raining on Saturday.
“It looked no different from the sea,” he said as he recalled what he saw on Saturday morning.
He pointed out cars that had been submerged in muddy waters and vending machines that would have to be replaced.
Elsewhere in Saga Prefecture, some 113 patients at a local hospital and 69 nursing home residents at the same site were safely evacuated to the higher floors after flooding, public broadcaster NHK said. Footage from NHK showed the hospital building and surrounding area flooded with water, which reached the top of the tires of cars parked in the hospital parking lot.
On Saturday, the Meteorological Agency had issued emergency heavy rain warnings in Saga, Hiroshima Fukuoka and Nagasaki prefectures.
Local authorities had issued the highest alert level to about 1.42 million people from some 650,000 households in the four prefectures, calling on them to take steps to ensure their safety, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.
The stationary front that has brought downpours to western Japan since Wednesday is expected to stay parked over an area near island of Honshu for another week, the Meteorological Agency said.
The land ministry on Saturday said 14 rivers had flooded in seven prefectures. The disaster could further hurt local tourism, which has already been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
While admitting that some reservations have already been canceled due to the rain, Hideyuki Sakai, an employee at a local inn in Takeo, said, “I hope the damage will not spread.”
Disaster minister Yasufumi Tanahashi called upon residents in the affected areas “to take action to save their lives without hesitation if they feel even a slight threat.”
Speaking at a news conference Saturday, a weather agency official said emergency heavy rain warnings could be reissued in the coming days in some areas in western and eastern Japan.
In the 24 hours through Sunday evening, up to 300 millimeters of rainfall had been forecast in the central Tokai region, up to 250 mm in the Kanto-Koshin region centered on Tokyo, and up to 200 mm across wider areas including Shikoku, Chugoku and Kinki in western Japan, and northern Kyushu.
Additionally, up to 180 mm was expected in southern Kyushu and up to 100 mm in Hokuriku and Tohoku regions.
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