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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Rescuers search for survivors after Japan floods kill at least 126

Worst flood toll since 1982 as rescuers race to find survivors amid rising temperatures

Residents try to retrieve a car from flood waters in Kurashiki, Okayama prefecture. Rescue workers, police and troops in Japan battled to reach survivors trapped by devastating floods and landslides after days of record rainfall killed at least 126 people. Jiji Press / AFP
Residents try to retrieve a car from flood waters in Kurashiki, Okayama prefecture. Rescue workers, police and troops in Japan battled to reach survivors trapped by devastating floods and landslides after days of record rainfall killed at least 126 people. Jiji Press / AFP

Rescuers in western Japan dug through mud and rubble early on Tuesday, racing to find survivors fromfloods and landslides that killed up to 130 people, with dozens missing.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe cancelled an overseas trip to deal with Japan’s worst flood disaster since 1982, with several million people forced from their homes.

Officials said the overall economic impact was unclear.

Following last week's torrential rain that unleashed the floods and mudslides, precipitation tapered off across the western region on Monday to reveal blue skies and sun, pushing temperatures well above 30 degrees Celsius. This fuelled fears of heatstroke in areas cut off from power or water supplies.

“We cannot take baths, the toilet doesn’t work and our food stockpile is running low,” said Yumeko Matsui, whose home in the city of Mihara, in Hiroshima prefecture, has been without water since Saturday.

“Bottled water and bottled tea are all gone from convenience stores and other shops,” the 23-year-old nursery school worker said at an emergency water supply station.

Up to 11,200 households had no electricity, power companies said on Monday, while hundreds of thousands had no water.

According to NHK television, the death toll stood at 126 by Tuesday morning, with another six people in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest – a term Japanese authorities often use to describe those who have not been officially pronounced dead by a doctor. It said 63 were missing.

Although persistent rain ended, officials warned of sudden showers and thunderstorms as well as more landslides on steep mountainsides that were saturated over the weekend.

Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said Mr Abe had cancelled his trip to Belgium, France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt because of the disaster. He had been due to leave on Wednesday.

Industry operations have also been hit, with Mazda Motor Corporation saying it was forced to close its head office in Hiroshima on Monday.

The automaker, which suspended operations at several plants last week, said the stop would continue at two plants until Tuesday because it could not receive components, although both facilities were undamaged.

Daihatsu, which suspended production on Friday at up to four plants, said it would run the second evening shift on Monday.

Electronics maker Panasonic said operations at one plant remained suspended after the first floor was flooded.

Refineries and oil terminals were not affected but blockages in roads leading to one Showa Shell oil terminal in Hiroshima caused gas and diesel shortages nearby.

Shares in some companies fell but losses were modest, with Mazda even gaining as investors bet damage was limited.

“If the rainfall affects supply chains, there will be selling of the affected stocks,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

“Otherwise, the impact will be limited.”

Elsewhere, people soldiered on with the grim recovery task.

The floodwaters slowly receded in Kurashiki city’s Mabi district, one of the hardest-hit areas, leaving a thick coat of brown mud and cars turned over or half-submerged, as residents returned to tackle the mess.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this is my life, and I’ve lived for more than 70 years,” said Hitoko Asano, 71.

“The washing machine, refrigerator, microwave, toaster, PC - they’re all destroyed,” she said, as she cleaned her two-storey house.

“Clothes in the drawers were all damaged by muddy water, we won’t even bother to wash them. I can’t help wondering how much it’ll cost to repair this.”

At one landslide in Hiroshima, shattered piles of lumber marked the sites of former homes, television images showed. Other homes had been tossed upside-down.

Although evacuation orders were scaled back sharply from the weekend, about 1.7 million people still face orders or advice to keep away from homes, fire and disaster officials said.

The economic impact was being assessed.

“I’m worried there could be a significant impact on production, consumption and tourism,” Toshiro Miyashita, Bank of Japan’s Fukuoka branch manager, who oversees the Kyushu region, told a news conference.

Japan monitors weather conditions and issues warnings early, but its dense population means every bit of usable land is built on in the mostly mountainous country, leaving it prone to disasters.