TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan's unprecedented death toll rose to at least 64 on Sunday after rivers overflowed and forced several million people to leave their homes, according to press reports , with more rain for some areas at least another day.
"We have never experienced this kind of rain before," said an official with the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) at a press conference. "This is a situation of extreme danger."
At least 64 people died and 44 disappeared, the national television network NHK said after the death toll had been set at 49 during the night. Among those missing was a 9-year-old boy who believes he was trapped in his house by an avalanche that killed at least three others, one of them a man in his 80s.
"All I have is what I'm wearing," a rescued woman holding a toy poodle told NHK.
"We fled to the second floor but then the water rose higher, so we went up to the third floor," he said.
The government of Japan established an emergency management center in the prime minister's office and some 54,000 rescuers from the military, police and fire departments were dispatched across a wide swathe of southwest and western Japan.
"There are still many missing people and others who need help, we are working against time," said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Emergency warnings for heavy rain remained in effect in three prefectures, with 300 mm (11 in) predicted to fall on Monday morning in parts of the smaller main island of Shikoku.
Evacuation orders were maintained for about 2 million people and another 2.3 million were recommended to evacuate, although the rain had stopped and the flood waters receded in some areas. Landslide warnings were issued in more than a quarter of the nation's prefectures.
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"My husband could not get home from work because the road was flooded, and as it was raining cats and dogs, I did not have enough courage to walk to an evacuation center with two babies after dark," a woman wrote. on Twitter, without giving more details.
The rain began at the end of last week when the remnants of a typhoon were fed on a seasonal rainy front, with humid and warm air that came from the Pacific making it even more active, a pattern similar to the one that caused flooding in the southwest from Japan. Exactly a year ago he killed dozens. The front remained in one place for an unusually long time, said the JMA.
Roads were closed and rail services were suspended in parts of western Japan. The Shinkansen bullet train services were resumed at a limited time after they were suspended on Friday.
The automakers, including Mazda Motor Corp ( 7261.T ) and Daihatsu Diesel Manufacturing Co ( 6023.T ) suspended operations at several plants on Saturday due to the Shortage of parts or dangerous conditions They were set to decide later on Sunday about plans for next week.
Electronics manufacturer Panasonic Corp ( 6752.T ) said that a plant in Okayama, in western Japan, could not be reached due to road closures, although it had been closed during the weekend. The decision on next week will be taken on Monday.
While the Japanese government closely monitors weather conditions and issues warnings from an early stage, the fact that much of the country outside major cities is mountainous and construction takes place on virtually all usable land. makes it vulnerable to disasters.
Reforestation policies after World War II that saw many mountains cleared and replanted with trees whose roots are less able to retain water have also contributed to the danger.
Additional reports by Junko Fujita and Makiko Yamazaki; Edition by Paul Tait
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