Dozens feared missing after mudslide tears through town in Japan
A powerful mudslide has torn through dozens of homes in Atami, 100 kilometres from Tokyo in Japan after heavy rain on Saturday, 3 June 2021. At least 80 people are known to be missing, officials say and they fear that figure may rise to as high as a hundred. As many as 80 homes were completely buried, according to an official with the Fire and Disaster Management Agency. Torrential rains have been hitting parts of Japan since earlier in the week. Experts said dirt had been loosened, increasing landslide risks in a country filled with valleys and mountains. Atami is a seaside resort area hot springs, residential areas, shopping streets and a famous shrine. Three coast guard ships and six military drones were backing up the hundreds of troops, fire fighters and other rescue workers toiling in the rain and fog in search of possible survivors.
Rescue workers slogged through mud and debris Monday looking for dozens feared missing after a giant landslide ripped through a Japanese seaside resort town, killing at least three people. Witnesses heard a giant roar as a small stream turned into a torrent, carrying black mud, trees, rocks and debris from buildings.
Eighty people were still unaccounted for, according to Shizuoka prefectural disaster management official Takamichi Sugiyama. Officials were preparing to release their names in hopes of reaching some that might not have been caught in the landslide.
Initially, 147 of those people were unreachable but that number was revised downward after city officials confirmed some had safely evacuated or were away when the disaster struck, it said.
The disaster is an added trial as authorities prepare for the Tokyo Olympics, due to start in less than three weeks, while Japan is still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
At least 20 were initially described as missing. Adding to confusion over casualties is that Atami is a vacation city, with many apartments and homes unoccupied for long parts of the year, their listed residents living in other places. Others may be away visiting relatives or friends or not answering the phone, officials said. They hope to get in touch with more of those unaccounted for on Monday.
Like many seaside and mountain towns in Japan, Atami is built on steep hillsides, its roads winding through bits of forest and heavy vegetation. With other parts of the country expecting heavy downpours in what is known as Japan's rainy season, authorities elsewhere were also surveying hillsides. NHK carried a programme Monday about risk factors and warning signs that might precede a landslide.
The mudslide struck Atami's Izusan neighbourhood, known for its hot springs, a shrine and shopping streets. Atami is about 100 kilometres southwest of Tokyo.
Shizuoka's Governor, Heita Kawakatsu told a news conference Sunday that construction upstream may have been a factor in the mudslide. Citing a preliminary examination by drone, Governor Kawakatsu said massive amounts of soil that had been heaped up in the construction area had all washed down. Governor Kawakatsu said he will investigate. Media reports said a planned housing development was abandoned after its operator ran into financial problems.
The Izusan area is one of 660 000 locations in the country identified as prone to mudslides on a hazard map issued by the government but is not widely publicised and public awareness is low.
Early July near the end of a rainy season often is a time of deadly flooding and mudslides triggered by torrential rains, which many experts say are worsening due to global warming.
A year ago, flooding and mudslides triggered by heavy rain in Kumamoto and four other prefectures in the Kyushu region in southern Japan left nearly 80 people dead. In July 2018, hillsides in crowded residential areas in Hiroshima collapsed, leaving 20 dead. In 2017, mudslides and flooding in the Kyushu region killed 40.
Sources: BBC, The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, CBC News