Rescue efforts continue after fatal mudslide rips central Japan city

Kyodo News

Posted at Jul 05 2021 06:22 PM

Rescue workers continued their search for survivors on Monday, two days after a large mudslide in a hot spring resort town southwest of Tokyo killed at least three people and destroyed no less than 130 houses.

Firefighters, police and Self-Defense Forces personnel continued to search mud-swamped houses in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, and remove debris after rescuing 23 people by Sunday. One person was reported injured and over 560 people took shelter in local hotels, according to the city.

On Monday, another three of those who had been missing were found by the rescue team, the city government said, two of whom are reportedly not in a life-threatening condition.

The city government has so far confirmed the safety of 67 of the 147 people whose whereabouts had been unknown based on the basic resident register.

The municipality is continuing its efforts to locate the remaining 80 people unaccounted for, including those who may have already moved from the city before the disaster but are still registered on the resident list.

The city government has identified one of the three dead as 82-year-old Chiyose Suzuki, but the two other female victims are yet to be identified.

In Tokyo, the Imperial Household Agency said Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako are deeply distressed by the deaths and people who remain unaccounted for in the area hit by the mudslide.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo that rescuers will continue looking for those believed to be buried in the mud.

Suga instructed members of his Cabinet to "save as many lives as possible and do your utmost to quickly make rescue efforts and support victims" at a disaster management task force meeting in the morning.

The top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said the state will team up with experts and the Shizuoka prefectural government to look into whether the massive mudslide was exacerbated by about 54,000 cubic meters of soil which was accumulated at the mountain for housing land and other development projects.

According to the prefectural government, some 100,000 cubic meters of soil collapsed into a nearby river around 10:30 a.m. Saturday, and traveled a distance of about 2 kilometers.

The local government closed 11 elementary and junior high schools, and four kindergartens on Monday as warnings against heavy rain and mudslide remained in place.

On social media platform Twitter, people posted the names, ages, descriptions and photos of missing relatives.

Among those searching for their relatives is 71-year-old Koichi Tanaka, whose 70-year-old wife Michiko went missing after Tanaka left his wife at home to check on her friend.

"I cannot believe that the city's face changed drastically within an hour," said Tanaka.

A local arm of the Japan National Council of Social Welfare began the enrollment of volunteers on Monday, but only taking on workers from within the prefecture as a measure against the coronavirus. The organization will set up a volunteer center once fears of a secondary disaster recede.