Death toll rises to 18 in rain-pummeled southwestern Japan

TOKYO — The death toll in rain-pummeled Fukuoka and Oita prefectures in southwestern Japan has risen to 18 on Saturday as rescue operations continued, while some 30 people were still unaccounted for, according to local authorities.

Meanwhile, five bodies had been found in coastal area in Saga prefecture, tens of kilometers from the rain-hit areas, and local police were investigating whether the deaths were associated with the torrential rain, as the bodies could be washed downstream from the disaster-stricken areas.

Torrential rain has devastated Fukuoka prefecture and neighboring Oita prefecture on the main island Kyushu since Wednesday, causing extensive flooding and mudslides.

In Asakura, one of the areas hardest hit by the torrential rain in Fukuoka prefecture, over 600 mm of rainfall were recorded in the 72-hour period from Wednesday to Friday. In the city of Hita, Oita prefecture, over 400 mm of rainfall have been recorded.

A massive search and rescue operation has been launched since the heavy downpours started, and were bolstered Friday with 12,000 members from Japan’s Self-Defense Force (SDF), local police and firefighters deployed.

Japan’s top government spokesperson Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Saturday that a total of 1,022 people have been rescued so far.

By 10:00 p.m. local time Saturday, a total of some 1,700 people were taking shelter outside their homes in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures.

Over 500 people remained stranded in Hita, Oita prefecture, though access to stranded residents in isolated areas in Asakura city and the village of Toho in Fukuoka was largely restored.

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), the seasonal rain front that caused the torrential rain in the northern part of the Kyushu has also affected western Japan, with rainfall of some 50 mm per hour registered in Kyodo and 50 mm per hour registered in the village of Nishiawakura in Okayama prefecture on Saturday afternoon.

The weather agency also warned that heavy rains are expected to continue in some parts of the Kyushu island on Sunday and urged residents in affected areas to stay vigilant for further flooding and mudslides.

The government has said that disaster management minister Jun Matsumoto would visit Oita on Sunday with a government survey team to assess the rescue and relief operations, as well as the extensive damage.