Japan’s deadly mudslide: 1,000 people involved in resort rescue

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More than 1,000 soldiers, firefighters and police waded through a giant mudslide on Sunday that ravaged a Japanese seaside resort southwest of Tokyo a day earlier, killing at least two people and leaving around 20 missing as it was taking houses and cars.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters that 19 people were rescued and 130 houses and other buildings were damaged in Atami.

Two people were dead but others were missing, he said, speaking after an emergency Cabinet meeting. Earlier, those responsible for the disaster said around 20 people were missing, but warned their numbers could rise. Officials from Shizuoka Prefecture said three people were injured.

“The region still experiences heavy rainfall, but arduous rescue efforts will continue,” Suga said, warning residents to be careful of more landslides. “Please act as quickly as possible to stay safe.”

Rescuers conduct a search operation at the site of an Izusan mudslide in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, Sunday, July 4, 2021. More than 1,000 soldiers, firefighters and police waded through Sunday in a giant mudslide that devastated the city seaside resort, sweeping away homes and cars.  (Kyodo news via AP)
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Rescuers conduct a search operation at the site of an Izusan mudslide in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, Sunday, July 4, 2021. More than 1,000 soldiers, firefighters and police waded through Sunday in a giant mudslide that devastated the city seaside resort, sweeping away homes and cars. (Kyodo news via AP)

Rescuers conduct a search operation at the site of an Izusan mudslide in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, Sunday, July 4, 2021. More than 1,000 soldiers, firefighters and police waded through Sunday in a giant mudslide that devastated the city seaside resort, sweeping away homes and cars.  (Kyodo news via AP)

Rescuers conduct a search operation at the site of an Izusan mudslide in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, Sunday, July 4, 2021. More than 1,000 soldiers, firefighters and police waded through Sunday in a giant mudslide that devastated the city seaside resort, sweeping away homes and cars. (Kyodo news via AP)

AT LEAST 19 MISSING LIKE THE MUDSLIDE WEST OF TOKYO HITS HOUSES

Troops, firefighters and other rescuers, supported by three coastguard ships, scrambled to clear the mud from the streets of Atami and reach those believed to be trapped or carried away. Rescuers were barely visible in the rain and thick fog, except for their hard hats. Six military drones were flown to help with the search.

Shizuoka Governor Heita Kawakatsu told a press conference on Sunday that land development upstream of the affected area may have played a role in the disaster. Citing a preliminary examination of the drones, Kawakatsu said massive amounts of soil piled up in the area had all been washed away, although it was not immediately clear whether development was the direct cause.

Kawakatsu said he would investigate the land development. The media reported that a real estate development project was scrapped after its operator had a financial problem.

The mudslide early Saturday crashed into the mountainside in rows of houses following heavy rains that started several days ago. Passers-by, their gasps of audible horror, captured the scene on cellphone video.

Witnesses said they heard a giant roar and then watched helplessly as the houses were swallowed up by the muddy waves.

Like many others, Mariko Hattori, an interpreter who lives a stone’s throw from where the torrent of tsunami-like mud hit, was initially unaware of what had happened.

“The first things I noticed were a lot of emergency vehicles. I didn’t know what happened at first,” she said. “Then I got scared when I saw the pictures.”

Houses are damaged by a mudslide following heavy rains in Izusan District of Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, west Tokyo, on Sunday, July 4, 2021. The mudslide carrying a deluge Black water and debris crashed into rows of houses in the city following heavy rains on Saturday, leaving several people missing, officials said.  (AP Photo / Eugene Hoshiko)

Houses are damaged by a mudslide following heavy rains in Izusan District of Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, west Tokyo, on Sunday, July 4, 2021. The mudslide carrying a deluge Black water and debris crashed into rows of houses in the city following heavy rains on Saturday, leaving several people missing, officials said. (AP Photo / Eugene Hoshiko)

This aerial photo shows the site of an Izusan mudslide in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, on Sunday, July 4, 2021. More than 1,000 soldiers, firefighters and police waded through a mudslide on Sunday. giant mud that ravaged the seaside resort as it washed away houses and cars.  (Kyodo news via AP)

This aerial photo shows the site of an Izusan mudslide in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, on Sunday, July 4, 2021. More than 1,000 soldiers, firefighters and police waded through a mudslide on Sunday. giant mud that ravaged the seaside resort as it washed away houses and cars. (Kyodo news via AP)

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The Atami area where the mudslide hit, Izusan, is a resort town about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Tokyo. It is known for its hot springs, its sanctuary and its shopping streets.

In an evacuation center, Yuka Komatsu, 47, told Asahi newspaper that she narrowly escaped the mudslide after seeing a nearby apartment building being hit. Frightened, she grabbed her mother and jumped into her car. In the rearview mirror, she saw muddy water swelling up and coming from behind as she hurtled down trees and broken rocks.

“I wonder what happened to our house,” she said.

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