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Dozens killed as landslides strike Japan’s Hiroshima

© Jiji Press, AFP | Rescue workers and soldiers search for survivors in Hiroshima, August 20 2014.

Huge landslides triggered by torrential rain slammed into the outskirts of the city of Hiroshima in western Japan Wednesday, leaving at least 27 dead, including several children, and 10 more missing, police said.

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Dozens of houses were buried in suffocating sludge when hillsides collapsed after a month’s worth of rain fell overnight, loosening slopes already saturated by heavy rain over the past few weeks.

“There was rain and thunder all night, beating down so hard I was scared to go outside,” a resident told Fuji TV. “Great big drops. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

An initial death toll of four, which included a two-year-old boy, was given by authorities, but this rose rapidly as emergency workers searched the area.

“According to the National Police Agency, the death toll has risen to 27 and 10 others are still unaccounted for," said an official of the disaster management office, a government body.

Among the dead was a 53-year-old rescuer, who was killed by a secondary landslide after he had pulled five people to safety, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.

Helicopters clattered overhead, lifting out survivors, as rescue workers searched through mud and piles of stones in residential areas about 5km (3 miles) from the city centre.

Among those dug out of the debris were two brothers, aged eleven and two, whose house was struck as they slept.

A child’s red school bag, covered in mud, lay in the debris. Houses had been pushed 100 metres by the landslide in the worst-hit area, where thick, knee-high mud hampered rescue efforts.

'The street turned into a river'

“The rain was just pouring down and the street in front of my house turned into a river,” a man in his 70s told national television NHK.

The soil in the area was of a kind that absorbed water until it suddenly loosened and slid, increasing the danger, disaster management experts told NHK.

Cities in land-scarce Japan often expand into mountainous areas, leaving such development vulnerable to landslides.

About 240mm (9 inches) of rain fell in the area in the 24 hours up to Wednesday morning, a record-breaking level,equivalent to a month’s worth of rain in a usual August, the Meteorological Agency said. Roughly half of that rain fell in one hour on Wednesday.

More rain was likely in western Japan later on Wednesday.

The force of the landslide crumbled asphalt roads, while streams of mud tore through neighbourhoods, turning houses into piles of twisted wreckage. Boulders with a diameter of as much as three metres lay scattered around.

Troops were deployed to help in the rescue after a request from the local government.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who abandoned a golfing holiday to deal with the disaster, said considerable resources were pressed into action.

"I have ordered (government officials) to carry out the rescue operation in an integrated manner, aware of the possibility of further rain," he told reporters in Tokyo.

"I also ordered them to raise the number of Self-Defense Force (military) personnel to several hundred in order to strengthen rescue operations," he said, adding he would be sending one of his ministers to the site.

In October last year, dozens of people were killed when the torrential rains of a passing typhoon triggered large landslides on the island of Oshima, south of Tokyo.

Landslides also killed 31 people in Hiroshima in 1999, including six in the same area hit this time.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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