Rescuers search for survivors in landslide-hit Japan town

Two dead and 20 still missing as rescuers look for survivors after a landslide hits the town of Atami.

Police officers conduct search and rescue operation at a mudslide site caused by heavy rain at Izusan district in Atami, west of Tokyo, Japan, July 4, 2021, in this photo taken by Kyodo [Kyodo/via Reuters]

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

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

The landslide, triggered by days of heavy rain, hit on Saturday morning, sweeping away hillside homes and turning residential areas into a quagmire that stretched down to the nearby coast.

“It’s possible that the number of damaged houses and buildings is as many as 130. I mourn the loss of life,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told ministers at an emergency meeting.

“This rainy-season front is expected to keep causing heavy rain in many areas. There is a fear that land disasters could occur even when the rain stops,” he warned.

About 1,000 rescuers, including 140 military personnel, were involved in the relief efforts, a Shizuoka prefecture official told the AFP news agency.

“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,” he added.

Atami Mayor Sakae Saito told rescuers to do their best in the search and rescue efforts, saying on Sunday that the “next 72 hours are crucial”, according to the Kyodo news agency.

More landslides feared

Atami, about 90km (55 miles) southwest of Tokyo, saw rainfall of 313mm in just 48 hours to Saturday – higher than the average monthly total for July of 242.5mm, 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.

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

Further downpours are forecast in the coming days across Japan’s main island.

“Landslides can occur again and again at the same place even if the rain stops. Residents and rescuers should remain on alert,” Takeo Moriwaki, professor of geotechnical engineering at Hiroshima Institute of Technology, told AFP.

NHK said on Sunday that at least seven other landslides had been reported across Japan.

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

About 387 survivors took shelter at evacuation centres, where people wearing masks kept their distance from other families due to fears of coronavirus infection, media reports said.

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

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies