KURASHIKI, Japan (Reuters) – Rescuers in western Japan dug through mud and rubble early on Tuesday, racing to find survivors after torrential rain that began last week unleashed floods and landslides that killed up to 130 people, with dozens missing.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe canceled an overseas trip to deal with Japan’s worst flood disaster since 1982, with several million people forced from their homes.
Officials said the overall economic impact was not clear.
Rain tapered off across the western region on Monday to reveal blue skies and a scorching sun that pushed temperatures well above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), fueling fears of heat-stroke in areas cut off from power or water.
“We cannot take baths, the toilet doesn’t work and our food stockpile is running low,” said Yumeko Matsui, whose home in the city of Mihara, in Hiroshima prefecture, has been without water since Saturday.
“Bottled water and bottled tea are all gone from convenience stores and other shops,” the 23-year-old nursery school worker said at an emergency water supply station.
Some 11,200 households had no electricity, power companies said on Monday, while hundreds of thousands had no water.
According to NHK public television, the death toll stood at 126 by Tuesday morning, with another six people in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest – a term Japanese authorities often use to describe those who have not been officially pronounced dead by a doctor. It said 63 were missing.
While persistent rain had ended, officials warned of sudden showers and thunderstorms as well as more landslides on steep mountainsides saturated over the weekend.
The floodwaters slowly receded in Kurashiki city’s Mabi district, one of the hardest hit areas, leaving a thick coat of brown mud and cars turned over or half-submerged, as residents returned to tackle the mess.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this is my life, and I’ve lived for more than 70 years,” said Hitoko Asano, 71.
“The washing machine, refrigerator, microwave, toaster, PC – they’re all destroyed,” she said as she cleaned her two-story house.
“Clothes in the drawers were all damaged by muddy water, we won’t even bother to wash them. I can’t help wondering how much it’ll cost to repair this.”
Ryutaro Hirakawa, 18, said he fled his house after smelling a strange odor coming from the ground, a sign of a landslide. “The smell of soil and grass was so strong when I opened the window,” he said. “There were landslides.”
Minoru Katayama, 86, rushed back to his home in Mabi city, in Okayama prefecture, on Monday, and found his 88-year-old wife, Chiyoko, dead on the first floor. Floodwaters rose so fast they caught the couple by surprise.
“My wife could not climb up the stairs, and nobody else was around to help us out,” Katayama told national broadcaster NHK. His wife was among more than 20 people who were found dead in the city, where a river dike collapsed.
The assessment of casualties has been difficult because of the widespread area affected. Officials in Ehime prefecture asked the central government to review a weather warning system, noting that rain warnings were issued after damage and casualties were occurring.
At one landslide in Hiroshima, shattered piles of lumber marked the sites of former homes, television images showed. Other homes had been tossed upside down.
Although evacuation orders were scaled back sharply from the weekend, some 1.7 million people still face orders or advice to keep away from homes, fire and disaster officials said.
The economic impact was being assessed.
“I’m worried there could be a significant impact on production, consumption and tourism,” Toshiro Miyashita, Bank of Japan’s Fukuoka branch manager, who oversees the Kyushu region, told a news conference.
Japan monitors weather conditions and issues warnings early, but its dense population means every bit of usable land is built on in the mostly mountainous country, leaving it prone to disasters.
Two million people were forced to flee their homes, advised or ordered by the government to evacuate. Some, unable to leave, took shelter on their rooftops as flash floods swallowed entire streets.
In Kurashiki near Okayama, soldiers were deployed to carry elderly residents from their homes into waiting boats.
Images from Kuyashiki, a city on the southern coast of Okayama Prefecture, show cars overturned or buried in mud.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported about 364 millimeters (14.3 inches) of rain fell between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. Sunday in the city of Uwajima — approximately 1.5 times the average monthly rainfall for July. In Sukumo City in Kochi prefecture, 263 millimeters (10.3 inches) of rain fell in two hours, NHK said.
About 73,000 personnel have been mobilized for search-and-rescue efforts.