Two people died and at least sixteen others were feared dead at a nursing home in western Japan as record rainfall triggered floods and landslides, forcing authorities to issue evacuation advisories for more than 200,000 residents.
A woman and a man in their 80s in different towns in the western Kumamoto region died in mudslides, according to national broadcaster NHK and other Japanese media.
Sixteen others remained in a state of “cardio-respiratory arrest”, NHK said, using a term often used in Japan before a doctor officially certifies death. Fourteen of them were residents of a nursing home, as announced by Governor Ikuo Kabashima on Saturday.
Six others were missing, the broadcaster said.
The victims were found in cardio-respiratory arrest on Saturday at the facility for elderly people. It was flooded after a nearby river broke its banks, governor Ikuo Kabashima from the Kumamoto region told reporters.
“The self-defence forces have launched rescue operations,” Kabashima said. Three others at the home were suffering from hypothermia, he added.
Between 60 and 70 people were in the home as water gushed through the second floor on Saturday morning, public broadcaster NHK said.
Separately, local officials said another person was also found in cardio-respiratory arrest in landslides in Kumamoto. They had previously said two were feared dead.
Elsewhere in Kumamoto, one person was seriously injured and nine others were missing, while about 100 people were stranded as roads were cut off by floods and landslides, NHK reported.
The country’s weather agency downgraded rain warnings by one notch from the highest emergency level in Kumamoto and nearby Kagoshima, but the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, urged local people to be on maximum alert.
Abe ordered 10,000 troops on standby for immediate deployment to join rescue and recovery operations, pledging the central government would “do its best to take emergency measures, prioritising people’s lives”.
Television footage showed vehicles swamped at car parks near a flooding river, while several bridges were washed away. “I can’t evacuate as a road turned into a river. It’s so scary,” a female resident told NHK.
Haruka Yamada, a 32-year-old local resident, told Kyodo News: “I saw large trees and parts of houses being washed away and heard them crashing into something. The air is filled with the smell of leaking gas and sewage.”
Aerial footage showed a resident being lifted with a rope from a roof to a military helicopter as an entire town became awash with muddy water.
A landslide destroyed several houses with rescuers searching for missing people through half-buried windows.
“We have issued evacuation orders after record heavy rain,” said Toshiaki Mizukami, another official for Kumamoto prefecture. “We strongly urge people to take action to protect their lives as it’s still raining quite heavily,” he told AFP.
Kyodo said more than 203,000 residents in Kumamoto and Kagoshima were advised to evacuate their homes. Some train services have been suspended in the region and more than 8,000 households lost power.
Japan is in its rainy season, which often causes floods and landslides, and prompts local authorities to issue evacuation orders.