Fri, 07 Aug 2020

UPDATE : 61 feared dead in Japan floods

The death toll has climbed gradually as more victims are discovered in isolated areas.

Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters that 58 people had been confirmed dead, with a further four feared to have lost their lives.

Suga said authorities were investigating whether four other deaths were linked to the floods, adding that 17 people were missing and a dozen injured.

After five days blocked by floodwater and landslides, troops finally managed to rescue some 40 residents in the village of Ashikita in Kumamoto region.

Kinuyo Nakamura, 68, burst into tears of relief as she finally made it to an evacuation centre.

"Gosh, it was scary. My house, it's such a mess, I cannot live there anymore," she said as she came across someone she knew at the shelter.

"We have experienced flooding disasters in the past many times. But this one doesn't compare. Rather than being afraid, I was just focused on escaping," she told public broadcaster NHK.

Nakamura choked up as she explained that one of her neighbours had fallen victim to the floods.

"A truly, truly, fantastic person," she said, covering her face to hide the tears. "That was the hardest thing".

Hesitating to offer help

In many areas, landslides reduced houses to rubble and floodwater rushed into homes in low-lying areas, destroying the contents and rendering them uninhabitable.

Japan has deployed at least 80 000 rescue workers to save lives with the aid of another 10 000 troops.

The rains also lashed central Japan, with local official Ryoichi Miyamae telling AFP that nearly 4 000 people were cut off, mainly trapped in the cities of Gero and the tourist magnet of Takayama by the overflowing Hida River.

Complicating the rescue efforts, the coronavirus pandemic has claimed nearly 1 000 lives in Japan from more than 20 000 cases.

AFP STR/JIJI PRESS/AFP

The need to maintain social distancing has reduced capacity at shelters and many have preferred to take refuge in their vehicles for fear of becoming infected.

One emergency worker said the coronavirus might be dissuading people from volunteering to help with the rescue efforts.

"A special characteristic of this disaster I felt was not people hesitating to evacuate, but people hesitating to offer help," one doctor said, according to NHK.

"In past disasters, by the fourth day, we would normally see relief efforts like people preparing meals. This time, I am yet to see anything like that".

Regional authorities have asked potential volunteers from outside Kumamoto not to travel to the region, for fear of spreading the virus.

Japan is in the middle of its annual rainy season and often sees damaging floods and landslides during this period that lasts several weeks.

However, experts say climate change is intensifying the phenomenon because a warmer atmosphere holds more water to dump in the form of rain.

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