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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 15 October 2018

Deadly floods and landslides hit western Japan

Record rainfall triggers evacuation order for more than a million residents in western region

The death toll from record downpours in Japan jumped to at least 30, with more than 1.9 million people ordered to evacuate on Saturday, as heavy rain continued to strike large areas in the west of the country.

Intense rainfall triggered huge landslides and flash floods in Hiroshima, Ehime, Okayama, Kyoto and other regions, while hampering rescue operations with dozens of people reportedly missing.

A local official in Ehime, in western Japan, said the toll in his area had jumped from six to 16, bringing the official national fatality figure to at least 30 dead since the massive rains began Thursday.

But that figure was expected to rise further, with public broadcaster NHK saying the toll was at 49.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered his ministers to "make an all-out effort" to rescue victims, saying: "The situation is extremely serious."

Record downpours prompted authorities to order about 1,932,000 people to evacuate their homes mainly in western Japan, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency, but NHK said the figure had risen to nearly 3.2 million.

In Hiroshima, the body of a man in his 60s was found near a bridge early on Saturday and another man was killed when a mudslide struck his house, a local government official said.

A 52-year-old woman in Kyoto was found dead by a river on Friday, while in neighbouring Hyogo prefecture a construction worker was swept away by flood waters and died.

Television footage showed a wooden bridge being washed away in Hiroshima by a rain-swollen muddy river.

Rescue workers dug through landslides that crushed houses in the same region, while several people evacuated to their rooftops as floods swamped entire residential areas in part of the Okayama region.

Trapped residents tweeted appeals for rescue.

"Water came to the middle of the second floor," a woman in Kurashiki, Okayama wrote, posting a picture of her room half swamped.

"The kids could not climb up to the rooftop," she said. "My body temperature has lowered. Rescue us quickly. help us."

Some areas have been hit by more than a metre of rainfall, according to the government, while around 48,000 troops, police and firefighters have been deployed for rescue operations, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said another 21,000 troops were on stand-by, adding: "I instructed them to carry out rescue operations by using every possible means of land-sea-and-air forces."

Japan Ground Self-Defence Force rescues residents from a flooded area in Kurashiki, Okayama prefecture, on July 7, 2018 after record rainsfall hit western Japan. Takumi Sato / Kyodo News via AP
Japan Ground Self-Defence Force rescues residents from a flooded area in Kurashiki, Okayama prefecture, on July 7, 2018 after record rainsfall hit western Japan. Takumi Sato / Kyodo News via AP

The Japan Meteorological Agency upgraded its alert system to the highest level - only issued when the amount of rain is expected to be the highest in decades - in large areas of western Japan, while lifting the warning in other regions.

Agency official Minako Sakurai told reporters heavy rain was forecast to continue until Sunday in western and eastern Japan.