Thousands told to evacuate as mudslides, floods kill one in Japan

One person dead and hundreds of thousands of people urged to evacuate as torrential rain lashes southwestern Japan.

Cars are stranded in a flooded road in heavy rain in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture
Cars stranded on a flooded road in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture [Kyodo via Reuters]

Torrential rain has been pounding parts of southwestern Japan, triggering floods and mudslides that have killed at least one woman and left six others missing.

The Japan Meteorological Agency issued an emergency warning for Fukuoka and Oita prefectures on the southern part of Kyushu island on Monday, warning of the “heaviest rain ever experienced” in the region and urging residents in riverside and hillside areas to take maximum caution.

More than 420,000 people in Fukuoka and Oita were under the highest of Japan’s five level scale for evacuations with people informed: “Your life is in danger, you need to take action immediately”.

This handout photo taken on July 10, 2023 and provided courtesy of the Karatsu City local government office shows the site of a landslide in Karatsu City, Saga prefecture
The site of a landslide in Karatsu City, Saga prefecture [Handout: Karatsu City via AFP]

More than 1.7 million residents in vulnerable areas were also told to take shelter.

Japan has a five-level evacuation order but people cannot be compelled to leave their homes.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said at least six people were missing.

The rains, which have been falling on the regions of Kyushu and Chugoku since the weekend, have caused mudslides and flooding along several rivers, closing roads, disrupting trains and cutting the water supply in some areas.

In the town of Soeda in Fukuoka prefecture, an elderly couple were buried underneath a mudslide. One was rescued alive but the 77-year-old woman was later confirmed dead, according to the Kyodo news agency.

In the city of Karatsu in Saga prefecture, rescue workers were searching for three people whose houses were hit by a mudslide, the agency said.

Three others were missing elsewhere in the region.

Footage on NHK television showed muddy water from the swollen Yamakuni River gushing over a bridge in the town of Yabakei in Oita prefecture.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s office said a task force had been established to coordinate a response to the rains.

“We have received reports that several rivers have flooded… and that landslides have occurred in various parts” of the country, government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.

“The government is doing its best to get a complete picture of the damage and taking measures under a policy of ‘people’s lives first’,” he added.

The downpour caused travel disruption, including the temporary stoppage of bullet train service between western Hiroshima and Fukuoka, operator JR West said.

People make their way on a flooded road in heavy rain in Kurume
People make their way on a flooded road in Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture [Kyodo via Reuters]

And thousands of homes across western Japan have lost power, Matsuno said.

Japan is in its annual rainy season, which often brings heavy downpours and sometimes results in flooding and landslides as well as casualties.

Scientists say climate change is intensifying the risk of heavy rain in Japan and elsewhere because a warmer atmosphere holds more water.

The weather agency said it had already been raining for more than a week in the region.

“The area is very wet due to intermittent rainfall for over a week,” Yoshiyuki Toyoguchi, a land ministry official in charge of rivers, told reporters. “Even with a little rain, river levels tend to rise quickly, which will increase risk of flooding.”

Landslides are a particular risk in Japan during heavy rains because homes are often built on plains at the bottom of hillsides in the mountainous country.

In 2021, rain triggered a devastating landslide in the central resort town of Atami that killed 27 people. And in 2018, floods and landslides killed more than 200 people in western Japan during the rainy season.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies