Rescuers were in a pitched battle against time on Tuesday to save dozens of people still missing 72 hours after torrential rains first began to deluge parts of western Japan, sparking flooding and landslides that have left at least 155 people dead, The Japan Times reports.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said more than 50 people were still unaccounted for as of Tuesday afternoon, most of them in the hardest-hit Hiroshima area.
Search efforts continued in Hiroshima and Okayama prefectures, as well as their neighboring areas, despite the elapse of the crucial 72-hour period, after which the odds of finding survivors decreases significantly.
The record downpours triggered a number of mudslides as well as flooding homes across a wide swath of the region from Friday afternoon to early Saturday, pushing the death toll to the highest in a rain-related natural disaster in the nation since 1982.
Rescuers stepped up search efforts in Hiroshima Prefecture, where massive landslides have occurred leaving more than 50 dead and multiple people still unaccounted for.
A fresh evacuation order was issued Tuesday for residents in the town of Fuchu, after the Enoki River that runs through the town overflowed earlier in the day when driftwood blocked its flow.
About 1000 rescuers and 70,000 emergency workers continued to search in flooded areas of the city of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, for people trapped in their homes. More than 20 people died in the city after river dikes collapsed, inundating around 4,600 homes.
Scorching heat that followed the rains also began to take a toll on the health of evacuees, with many unable to take showers or make their way to hospitals for much-needed medicines.
At an elementary school in the Mabicho area of Kurashiki, where some 200 people have taken shelter, more than 10 large electric fans were seen running together in the hot weather. “My body is sticky because I haven’t taken a bath and I left my glasses behind and can’t see anything,” said a woman in her 70s, who was rescued by Self-Defense Forces personnel after being found trapped in her home in water up to her chest.
During a meeting of the government’s crisis response unit in Tokyo on Tuesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to swiftly provide emergency relief by dipping into reserve funds and bypassing requests from local governments.
“We will assess the needs of victims and push for quick reconstruction,” Abe vowed.
To address food and water shortages in disaster-hit areas, Abe said trucks ferrying supplies to convenience stores and other retailers will be treated as emergency vehicles.