Soldiers and emergency workers used hand poles and mechanical excavators in the desperate search, two days after a torrent of dirt hit a mountainside and ripped through part of the Atami hot spring spa in central Japan.
Three people have been confirmed dead, although authorities are struggling to determine the whereabouts of dozens of residents as they search the remains of 130 hillside homes and other buildings that were destroyed.
Vehicles were buried and buildings were toppled from their foundations in the disaster, with an air conditioning unit dangling from a devastated home to the grout below.
“We have confirmed that 102 people are safe and we are still checking the safety of another 113 people, out of 215 residents believed to have been in the area affected by the landslide,” city official Yuki told AFP. Sugiyama.
Authorities had initially said only 20 people were missing, but Atami Mayor Sakae Saito said Sunday night that it was only an estimate based on an initial assessment.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga confirmed on Monday that authorities had yet to determine how many people were missing, while attention was still focused on finding survivors.
“The national government, together with the municipal governments, will verify (how many) are missing,” Suga said.
“(The rescue teams) are doing everything possible to rescue as many people as possible, as soon as possible,” he added.
The landslide occurred during Japan’s annual rainy season and followed days of heavy downpours in and around Atami.
Rescuers took a break in the rain Monday to continue their search, fording streams of murky water and clearing blocks of wood and other debris from the road.
Non-mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for more than 35,700 people across Japan, mainly in the Shizuoka region, including Atami, which is about 90 kilometers (55 miles) southwest of Tokyo.
The meteorological agency forecast heavy rains in the region as a whole, warning that more landslides could occur.
Atami reportedly recorded more rainfall in 48 hours than it typically does throughout July, and survivors told local media that they had never experienced such heavy rain in their lives.
Scientists say that climate change is intensifying the rainy season in Japan because a warmer atmosphere contains more water.
Survivors at a nearby evacuation center told AFP on Sunday of their panic as the collapse began.
“When I opened the door, everyone ran out into the street and a police officer came up to me and said: ‘What are you doing here, you have to hurry, everyone is evacuating!'” Local resident Kazuyo Yamada told AFP.
“So I went out into the rain in a hurry, without changing, with just one bag.”