Rescuers scramble to find missing after Japan floods

Japanese policemen and members of Self-Defence Forces (SDF) take part in search operations for missing people at flood area in Toho village, Fukuoka prefecture on July 7, 2017. Photo by Jiji Press/AFP

Japanese policemen and members of Self-Defence Forces (SDF) take part in search operations for missing people at flood area in Toho village, Fukuoka prefecture on July 7, 2017.

Photo by Jiji Press/AFP

ASAKURA, Japan – Rescuers in Japan were on Friday, July 7, scrambling to find more than 20 people missing after huge floods swept across the country's south this week, killing at least 7 and leaving a trail of destruction.

Raging rivers overflowing with water and mud have devastated swathes of Kyushu – the southernmost of Japan's 4 main islands – after heavy rainfall, sweeping away roads and houses and destroying schools.

Thousands of rescuers have been fighting through thick mud and battling the rain to search for missing and stranded people, with more than 1,100 believed to be cut off according to public broadcaster NHK.

The government said Friday that 7 had been killed, while 22 remain unaccounted for.

Public broadcaster NHK, however, reported that 4 additional bodies had been found in addition to the seven. 

NHK footage showed heavy machinery moving rocks and dirt to clean roads. 

A number of fallen trees were shown smashed into houses in the hard-hit Fukuoka prefecture city of Asakura, which saw more than 50 centimeters (almost 20 inches) of rain in a 12-hour period to Wednesday night.

Vehicles could also be seen overturned or buried in mud and reinforced river banks destroyed by raging water. Military trucks and rescue vehicles competed for space on the city's streets.

NHK said local authorities were dispatching helicopters to pluck people out of isolation, showing footage of stranded elderly residents being rescued.

It added that local authorities were rushing to restore access to regions cut off by the landslides and floods.

"My parents are still trapped with 16 other people in the Kurogawa area and I have absolutely no information about the situation there," Asakura resident Kayoko Ishibashi told AFP, referring to a district in the city.

"So I can only wait here in the hope that they will be rescued by helicopter," she added. "It's the same for everyone here."


In the nearby city of Hita in neighbouring Oita prefecture, Masayoshi Arakawa said he had experienced heavy rains in the past but this year's deluge was unexpected.

"A few years ago I had no problems so I thought that's how it would go again and so I decided to spend the night at my house last night," he told AFP late Thursday at an evacuation shelter.

"But when I went out to see how it was outside, I became frightened."

The government's top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, told a press conference that some 12,000 police, military, firefighters and coast guard personnel were taking part in rescue operations.

By Thursday they had recovered 522 people, and a further 15 on Friday.

"Heavy rain is forecast to continue intermittently," Suga said, while calling for continued vigilance.

"I would like people in the disaster zone to pay full attention to evacuation information."

Heavy rain and landslide warnings remained in place on Friday.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said it expected as much as 25 centimeters of torrential downpours in the 24 hours until Saturday morning.

"Due to sustained heavy rainfall, the area is seeing increased risk of landslides," the weather agency said, adding some areas of northern Kyushu had experienced "unprecedented" rainfall.

Erika Kuwano, a disaster management spokeswoman in Hita, said officials are on guard.

"We are concerned that more landslides may happen," she said.

Separately, Japan's Imperial Household Agency said that out of consideration for the disaster-hit region Emperor Akihito's eldest granddaughter Princess Mako and her fiancee decided to postpone the scheduled formal announcement on Saturday of their engagement. –