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Death toll from catastrophic Hiroshima landslides could double

The search for survivors was suspended today over concerns of fresh landfalls at the disaster site.

aerial In this aerial photo, houses are heavily damaged after a massive landslide swept through residential areas in Hiroshima on Wednesday. Source: AP Photo/Kyodo News, Shingo Nishizume

JAPANESE AUTHORITIES FEAR the death toll of recent landslides outside Hiroshima could double as around 50 people remain missing.

At least 40 people were killed and dozens of homes destroyed when mountainsides gave way, sending tons of mud, rock and debris crashing into suburban communities on the outskirts of Hiroshima early Wednesday morning.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 15 people were injured, two seriously.

Local government official Nakatoshi Okamoto said a few people were washed away it was hard to know exactly how many were unaccounted for, given conditions at the site.

The search for survivors of the devastating landslide in western Japan was temporarily halted today over concerns of further land collapses.

“Operations in [two districts] were halted as mountains there were becoming misshapen,” a Hiroshima police spokesman said. Rescuers have been “evacuated as there is a risk of a fresh landslide”.

The search was later resumed, but the threat of further landslides remains.

Difficult conditions are hampering efforts to locate more survivors from Wednesday’s collapses. On Wednesday, a rescue worker was killed when he was buried by a secondary landslide as he attempted to carry a young child to safety.

More than 4,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes as rain continues to pour down on the already-soaked hillsides.

The land collapsed so quickly at multiple locations that evacuation advisories came an hour after the first mudslide, said Kenzo Kanayama, the city’s disaster management chief. “We misjudged the situation. It was too late,” he said.

aerial Rescue workers search for survivors among the homes devastated by the landslide. Source: AP Photo/Kyodo News

Landslide danger

This week has already seen record rainfalls in the area and heavy rainfall is expected to continue until tomorrow, bringing the risk of further landslides.

Hillsides in the area are made of decomposed granite – a coarse, sand-like material often used for driveways and paths, the AFP reports. Geologists say the rock is so weathered that it easily fractures into smaller chunks and becomes fragile when waterlogged.

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Emergency services have pledged to continue their efforts to locate survivors. The specific number of missing remains unclear as some of those on the missing list could be among the unidentified remains recovered from the site.

“We will continue our search all night long tonight as we are really fighting against time,” said Hideyuki Okuda, an official of the city’s disaster management.

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui noted the clock was ticking and the 72-hour golden window, in which experts reckon survivors are most likely to be found, was closing.

Japan Landslide_Acos (2) Rescue workers searching for survivors as rain continues to fall at the site of the landslide disaster. Source: AP Photo/Kyodo News

“I want [rescuers] to save the lives of many missing people within these hours,” the mayor told an emergency press conference in the city, according to Jiji Press news agency.

Heavy rain was also affecting parts of Japan further south, with Chikushino city in Fukuoka prefecture issuing an evacuation advisory to its 102,000 residents.

- Additional reporting by AFP and the AP

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