Japan floods: Two dead, 25 missing as more rivers burst banks
Floods that swept houses off their foundations and crushed others under landslides spread across Japan Friday as more rivers burst their banks, leaving at least 25 people missing and forcing more than 100,000 to flee, Reuters reports.
A severe rain warning remained in effect for parts of northern Japan but flood waters were retreating in the city of Joso in Ibaraki Prefecture after toppling trees and washing houses away, sometimes with their owners still inside.
One 63-year-old woman was killed after her house was crushed by a landslide and another when her car was swept away. At least 27 people were injured, eight seriously.
Two eight-year-old children were believed to be among the missing, NHK national television said.
The Meteorological Agency issued a severe-weather warning for Miyagi Prefecture early Friday and warned of further mudslides and flooding across eastern Japan as rain clouds shifted north, Koyodo reports.
The banks of the Shibui River in the city of Osaki collapsed and flooded houses nearby, and the city of Sendai issued an evacuation advisory to 412,000 people after the Nanakitagawa River flooded in Izumi Ward.
In Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures, at least one person was dead and at least 25 were missing after heavy, typhoon-driven rains triggered landslides and caused rivers to flood about 45 km north of Tokyo Thursday.
The Kinugawa River breached its banks just before 1 p.m. in the city of Joso, Ibaraki Prefecture, flooding a residential area and prompting an airborne evacuation of residents from balconies and roofs as their homes threatened to collapse beneath them.
It was the first time the river had broken its banks in 66 years. The deluge inundated an area of roughly 32 sq. km, which houses around 6,500 homes. Many of them were flooded.
Heavy rain was expected to continue until around noon Friday in Tohoku.
Takuya Deshimaru, director of the Japan Meteorological Agency’s forecast division, said the situation in Miyagi was “abnormal” and the area faced “grave danger.” He urged residents to take safety measures.
The Metropolitan Police Department planned Friday to dispatch 100 officers from units including its riot police force to Joso. The Tokyo Fire Department sent a rescue team with helicopters.
By nightfall Thursday, more than 400 residents had been rescued by the police, fire department, Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Coast Guard. Helicopter crews helped to pull people to safety.
As of 11 p.m., around 690 people were still indicating they needed help, according to the National Police Agency.
The Kinugawa River surged into Joso through a breached levee. The banks there were 4 meters high.
The Land, Transport, Infrastructure and Tourism Ministry had been planning to fortify the banks where the collapse occurred because they were deemed unlikely to withstand the kind of floods likely to occur once every 10 years. The river runs through Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures.
Residents rescued by helicopter recalled the terror they felt as the flood waters quickly rose.
“There was a scene in front of me which was like the one in the tsunami disaster,” said Jiro Nakayama, 70, referring to the 2011 calamity triggered by a huge earthquake off northeastern Japan.
Masaji Kanasaki, 72, said the water rose to waist level within 30 minutes. He had been filming it with a video camera, but stopped and joined other family members in waving towels from a balcony to call for help.
“I don’t know what to do now,” he said at a nearby gymnasium, where he was evacuated to.
Also in Joso, about 550 people were trapped in a community center and about 100 people were stuck on the roof of a shopping center. Some places designated as evacuation areas were among those that flooded.
The flooding occurred hours after the agency issued severe-weather warnings for Tochigi Prefecture and then Ibaraki Prefecture on Thursday morning.
“This is an unusual situation we have not experienced before. We are at a critical phase,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a meeting of ministers. He urged rescue personnel to prevent the situation from deteriorating.
Around 100,000 people in Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures were ordered to evacuate temporarily.
As of Thursday evening, the police said six people had suffered serious injuries and 15 others received light wounds in the disaster zone.
The torrential rain followed Typhoon Etau, which crossed the central part of the country and headed out over the Sea of Japan on Wednesday before being downgraded to a depression.
The rain also caused a partial collapse of a hotel overlooking the Kinugawa River in the hot springs resort area of Nikko.
The town of Minamiaizu in Fukushima Prefecture suffered flooding and landslides, with about 300 households temporarily cut off.
Rainwater drenching the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant might flow into the Pacific Ocean, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga warned at a press conference. But he added, the radiation level of such rainwater will be “sufficiently below” the legally permitted level.
The severe rain also disrupted rail transport in eastern and northeastern Japan, with East Japan Railway halting services between Fukushima and Shinjo stations on the Yamagata Shinkansen Line through Friday morning.