Rescuers search for survivors in landslide-hit Japan town

Atami (Japan) (AFP) –


Rescuers in a Japanese town hit by a deadly landslide climbed onto cracked roofs and searched cars thrown onto engulfed buildings on Sunday, as more rain lashed the area.

Two people have been confirmed dead after the disaster at the hot-spring resort of Atami in central Japan, with 10 people rescued and around 20 still missing, a local government official said.

Torrents of mud crashed through part of the town on Saturday morning following days of heavy rain, sweeping away hillside homes and turning residential areas into a quagmire that stretched down to the nearby coast.

"We resumed rescue operations early in the morning with some 1,000 rescuers, including 140 troops," a Shizuoka prefecture official told AFP.

"We are trying our best to search for survivors as quickly as possible while carrying out the operation very carefully as it is still raining."

Chieko Oki, who works on a shopping street in Atami, said: "The big electricity pylons here were shaking all over the place, and no sooner had I wondered what was going on than the mudslides were already there and in the street below too."

"I was really scared," the 71-year-old told AFP.

Another survivor told local media he had heard a "horrible sound" and fled to higher ground as emergency workers urged people to evacuate.

On Sunday, dark water trickled past half-buried vehicles and buildings tipped from their foundations.

An air-conditioning unit dangled from one devastated home, now perched above a thick slurry of mud and debris.

Around 2,800 homes in Atami have been left without power, the Tokyo Electric Power Company said on Saturday.

The town, around 90 kilometres (55 miles) southwest of Tokyo, saw rainfall of 313 millimetres in just 48 hours to Saturday -- higher than the average monthly total for July of 242.5 millimetres, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Much of Japan is currently in its annual rainy season, which lasts several weeks and often causes floods and landslides, prompting local authorities to issue evacuation orders.

Scientists say climate change is intensifying the phenomenon because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, resulting in more intense rainfall.

In 2018, more than 200 people died as devastating floods inundated western Japan.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had on Saturday warned residents to stay alert for further landslides triggered by the rain.

NHK said 80 houses had been destroyed in the mudslide, which could reach as far as two kilometres (1.2 miles).

The highest evacuation alert, which urges people "to secure safety urgently", was issued after the disaster in Atami, which has 20,000 households, reports said.

Residents in many other cities in Shizuoka have also been ordered to evacuate.