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Rescuers struggle to locate dozens of residents in landslide-hit Japanese town

64 people are missing after a Japanese holiday town was hit by a landslide at the weekend.

Damaged houses after the landslide in Atami, Japan
Damaged houses after the landslide in Atami, Japan
Image: Eugene Hoshiko/PA Images

AUTHORITIES IN A landslide-hit Japanese holiday town are trying to locate at least 64 residents after rescue teams spent today trawling through the debris looking for survivors.

Soldiers and emergency workers used hand-held poles and mechanical diggers in the search two days after a torrent of earth slammed down a mountainside and through part of the hot-spring resort of Atami in central Japan.

Rescue operations were suspended in the evening and will resume early tomorrow, city officials said.

Four people have been confirmed dead, although officials are struggling to pinpoint the whereabouts of dozens as they scour the wreckage of 130 homes and other buildings that were destroyed.

Pylons were toppled, vehicles buried and buildings tipped from their foundations in the disaster, with aerial footage from the mountaintop showing a stark brown wedge gouged out of the green hillside.

“As of today, at least 64 people are still unaccounted for,” the city’s disaster-management spokesman Yuta Hara told AFP after the city released their names in a bid to gather information about their status.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the focus was still on finding survivors, with hundreds of rescue workers “doing their best to rescue as many people as possible, as soon as possible”.

The landslide on Saturday descended in several violent waves during Japan’s annual rainy season following days of intense downpours in and around Atami.

Survivors at a nearby evacuation centre told AFP yesterday of their panic when the landslide began.

“When I opened the door, everyone was rushing into the street and a policeman came up to me and said: ‘What are you doing here, you have to hurry, everyone is evacuating!’” resident Kazuyo Yamada said.

“So I went out in the rain in a hurry, without changing, with just a bag.”

Rescuers on Monday took advantage of a break in the rain to continue their search, wading through streams of murky water and moving blocks of timber and other debris out of the way.

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Non-compulsory evacuation orders have been issued to more than 35,700 people across Japan, mostly in the Shizuoka region, including Atami, which is around 90 kilometres (55 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

The weather agency forecast heavy rain in the wider region, warning that more landslides could occur.

Atami reportedly recorded more rainfall in 48 hours than it usually does for the whole of July, and survivors told local media they had never experienced such strong rain in their lives.

Scientists say climate change is intensifying Japan’s rainy season because a warmer atmosphere holds more water.

In 2018, more than 200 people died as devastating floods inundated western Japan, and last year dozens were killed as the coronavirus pandemic complicated relief efforts.

© AFP 2021 

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