Kyodo News via AP
TOKYO (AP) – A powerful landslide with a deluge of black water and debris crashed into rows of houses in a city west of Tokyo after heavy rains on Saturday, leaving at least 19 people missing, authorities said.
Up to 80 houses in Atami were completely buried, according to an official with the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.
The official said more people, possibly 100, could still be missing under the landslides, but cautioned that details were not immediately clear. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as is often the policy in Japanese bureaucracies, emphasized that aggressive rescue operations were underway to find survivors.
Public broadcaster NHK previously indicated the number of missing persons at 20, but Shizuoka prefectural spokesman Takamichi Sugiyama said the prefecture confirmed at least 19, although he said the number could rise.
Torrential rains have hit parts of Japan earlier this week. Experts said the land had loosened, increasing the risks of landslides in a country full of valleys and mountains.
Kyodo News via AP
The landslides appeared to have struck multiple times, almost as fast as a car. The footage showed a powerful black mudslide sliding down a mountain, knocking and crushing houses and dragging cars in its wake. Helpless neighbors watched in horror, some recording on their phones.
Images from NHK TV showed that part of a bridge had collapsed.
Shizuoka Governor Heita Kawakatsu told reporters that the Coast Guard had discovered two people who had been swept into the sea by a landslide. Their hearts had stopped, but their deaths had not yet been officially declared, he said. No other details of his identity were released.
“I offer my condolences to all who have suffered,” he said, adding that every possible effort will be made to rescue lives.
Kawakatsu and other officials said it had rained heavily in the area all morning. The self-defense groups have joined firefighters and police in the rescue operation, and national government officials have also arrived, they said.
Evacuation orders affect more than 35,000 people
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called an emergency meeting for his cabinet and instructed the task force to press ahead with rescue operations while guarding against more such disasters.
Evacuation warnings were issued for a wide area, including the so-called “Level 5” which is the highest possible alert, affecting more than 35,000 people.
Atami is a picturesque seaside resort in Shizuoka Prefecture, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Tokyo. The area that was hit by the landslide, Izusan, includes hot springs, residential areas, shopping streets, and a famous sanctuary.