A couple walks in front of a damaged house in Kumamoto. Koji Harada/AP/Press Association Images

Death toll rises as floods cause major flooding in southern Japan

The floods in Kumamoto region have caused serious damage.

OVER 30 PEOPLE are either confirmed or feared dead – including 14 at a nursing home — after torrential rain in Japan triggered massive floods and mudslides, authorities said. 

Rescuers were searching for 14 people missing after floods hit the Kumamoto region on the southwestern island of Kyushu, destroying houses, sweeping away vehicles and causing bridges to collapse.

The regional government confirmed 18 people had died, while another 16 were in a state of “cardio-respiratory arrest” – a term often used in Japan before a doctor officially certifies death.

Fourteen of the victims were at a nursing home that was inundated when local rivers broke their banks. Emergency services rescued 50 people from the facility.

More than 200,000 people have been urged to evacuate as authorities request those in emergency shelters to wash their hands, wear masks and maintain social distance to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We will do our utmost to prevent the spread of the infection and make lives of those who had to flee their home as comfortable as possible,” Disaster Management Minister Ryota Takeda told reporters after visiting a gymnasium in Hitoyoshi city where 600 residents are sheltering. 

japan-heavy-rain Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members evacuate people in the south of the country. Kota Endo / AP/Press Association Images Kota Endo / AP/Press Association Images / AP/Press Association Images

At a cabinet-level meeting in Tokyo on the disaster, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to offer financial support, while warning residents in Kumamoto to brace for more rain.

“As we speak, more than 40,000 personnel from police, fire, coast guard and Self-Defence troops are conducting search and rescue operations which will continue through the night,” Abe said.

“Saving lives is our priority.”

Communities along the Kuma River, which passes through Hitoyoshi, have been hit hard by the floodwaters.

Although the rain had eased in Kumamoto by this morning, collapsed bridges and blocked roads due to flooding and mudslides have left many isolated in the region.

Rescue workers and troops from the Self-Defence Forces used boats and helicopters to reach them. 

More rain is expected this evening.

A large “SOS” sign was created on the grounds of what used to be an elementary school in Yatsushiro city, where about 10 people waved white towels at rescue and media helicopters.

© AFP 2020

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