A powerful mudslide carrying a deluge of black water and debris crashed into rows of houses in a city west of Tokyo following heavy rains on Saturday, leaving at least 19 people missing, said officials.
As many as 80 homes in Atami have been completely buried, according to an official with the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.
The official said other people, possibly 100, could still be missing under the mudslides, but warned details were not immediately clear. The official, who requested anonymity as is often the case in Japanese bureaucracies, said aggressive rescue operations were underway to locate survivors.
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Public broadcaster NHK previously gave the number of missing people at 20, but Shizuoka Prefecture spokesman Takamichi Sugiyama said the prefecture had confirmed at least 19, although the number may rise.
Torrential rains hit parts of Japan from the start of the week. Experts said the land had come loose, increasing the risk of a landslide in a country filled with valleys and mountains.
The landslides seemed to have struck several times, about as fast as a car. The footage showed a powerful black mud flow sliding down a mountain, toppling and crushing houses and sweeping cars in its path. Helpless neighbors watched in horror, some recording on their phones.
NHK TV footage showed part of a bridge had collapsed.
Shizuoka Governor Heita Kawakatsu told reporters that the coast guard discovered two people who had been swept into the sea by a mudslide. Their hearts had stopped, but their deaths had not yet been officially declared, he said. Other details of their identities were not disclosed.
“I offer my deepest condolences to all who have suffered,” he said, adding that the greatest effort would be made to save lives.
Kawakatsu and other officials said it had rained heavily in the area all morning. Self-defense forces joined firefighters and police in the rescue operation, and national government officials also arrived, they said.
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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called an emergency meeting for his cabinet and called on the task force to continue the rescue operations while guarding against other such disasters.
Evacuation warnings have been issued for a large area, including “level 5”, which is the highest possible alert, affecting more than 35,000 people.
Atami is a scenic resort town in Shizuoka Prefecture, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Tokyo. The area affected by the mudslide, Izusan, includes hot springs, residential areas, shopping streets and a famous shrine.
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