Japanese monsoon death toll reaches 146

10th July 2018: Rescuers battled today to find dozens of people still missing after torrential rains devastated parts of western Japan, with flooding and landslides leaving 146 dead so far.

Search efforts continued in hardest-hit Hiroshima and Okayama as well as other prefectures, with dozens of people still unaccounted for 72 hours since the disaster, considered the decisive period for finding survivors.

The downpours triggered mudslides and left homes flooded in a wide area, mainly from Friday afternoon to early Saturday, with the number of deaths the highest caused by rain in Japan since 1982.

Rescuers stepped up search efforts in Hiroshima Prefecture where massive landslides occurred, leaving more than 50 dead and multiple people still unaccounted for.

A fresh evacuation order was issued this morning for residents in the town of Fuchu in the prefecture after the Enoki River running through the town overflowed earlier in the day after driftwood blocked its flow.

About 1,000 rescuers looked for people cut off in their homes and searched in flooded areas of the city of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture.

Koji Tsunomori, 54, lost his 44-year-old wife Nana, whom he married around three weeks ago, in a mudslide in the town of Kumano in Hiroshima. His two step sons, aged 13 and 2, and the wife’s 71-year-old mother are still missing.

“Why didn’t I tell her to evacuate?” he said, regretting that he told his wife not to worry about the intensifying rain when he last contacted her via online messaging app Line on Friday night.

He found a stuffed toy he gave to the younger son near the destroyed wooden home and is hoping to find the remaining members of his family, as rescuers continued to dig out the area.

Evacuees are now having to deal with scorching heat following the rain, with many unable to take showers or go to hospital to get necessary medicines.

Kiyohiro Horibe, 68, one of around 40 people taking shelter at a public health center in the city of Higashihiroshima, said he has been staying there for four days with the prospects for returning home uncertain amid the risk of further landslides.

“My lower back is aching” from sleeping on a mat, he said, adding, “I do not want to continue this kind of life.”

During a meeting of the government’s crisis response unit in Tokyo earlier today, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to swiftly provide emergency relief by using reserve funds without waiting for requests from local governments.

“We will assess the needs of victims and push for quick reconstruction,” Abe said.

To address food and water shortages in disaster-hit areas, Abe said trucks taking supplies to convenience stores and other retailers will be treated as emergency vehicles.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference that the government is expected to use reserve funds of about 2 billion yen ($18 million) on relief.

Although the government is yet to fully grasp the extent of the damage, 347 homes were totally or partially destroyed and 9,868 homes were flooded as of Tuesday morning, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

The figures are expected to substantially increase as municipal authorities have yet to finish assessing the scale of damage.

About 269,000 homes were affected by water outages in 12 prefectures in western Japan as of Tuesday morning, according to the health ministry.

Agricultural, forestry and fishery damage has reached 7.2 billion yen, farm minister Ken Saito said, as the deluge devastated mountain forests and paddy fields while causing the collapse of reservoirs.

The downpours continued to hit businesses although some companies have begun resuming operations. Mitsubishi Motors Corp., which resumed operations at its Mizushima plant in Kurashiki on Monday, again halted production as workers’ families were affected by the disaster.

A Toyota Motor Corp. subsidiary in southwestern Japan said it will partially suspend nighttime operations at one of its plants manufacturing high-end Lexus models as transportation has been disrupted by the rain.

But Daihatsu Motor Co., a minivehicle-making unit of Toyota, restarted operations at all of its plants on Tuesday, including those in Kyoto and Osaka prefectures, although it said it could shut them again depending on parts procurement.

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