One dead, several missing as Japan braces for ‘heaviest rain ever’

TOKYO (AFP): Thousands of people have been forced to evacuate from their homes as one person was killed and several were missing due to torrential rains in southwestern Japan Monday, officials said with forecasters warning of further “heaviest rain ever” in the region.

Torrential downpours after a week of steady rain have triggered river outflows and sodden earth to collapse in deadly landslides, including one that killed a 77-year-old woman, according to AFP.

The woman’s home was engulfed overnight in Saga region, the local fire department told AFP. Her husband has recovered consciousness and is taken to hospital.

A second woman was feared dead after last being seen clinging to a car in rising floodwaters in neighbouring Oita region, officials said.

At least nine other people were missing in landslides in Fukuoka and Oita regions, where over 420,000 people were under a top-level evacuation warning stating: “Your life is in danger, you need to take action immediately.”

Nearly 2 million more in Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Saga, Yamaguchi, and Oita were under a lower-level warning, urging them to evacuate if they are in hazardous areas.

Japan has five levels of evacuation orders, but people cannot be compelled to leave their homes.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said the heavy downpours risked flooding and landslides across Fukuoka and Oita.

“This is the heaviest rain ever experienced” by the region, Satoshi Sugimoto of JMA’s forecast division told reporters.

“The situation is such that lives are in danger and safety must be secured,” he added.

Don’t hesitate, act

Footage on national broadcaster NHK showed a gash in the hillside above a home in Karatsu City that had partially collapsed into a river, with many of its traditional roof tiles smashed or sliding off.

The prime minister’s office said a task force had been established to coordinate a response to the rains.

“We have received reports that several rivers have flooded… and that landslides have occurred in various parts” of the country, top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.

“The government is doing its best to get a complete picture of the damage and taking measures under a policy of ‘people’s lives first,’” he added.

He warned torrential rain was forecast across much of the country Tuesday.

“If you feel your life is in danger, even just a little, don’t hesitate to act,” he said.

In Fukuoka’s Asakura City, officials said the rain was believed to have peaked but there were still fears about flooding.

“Water levels in rivers are rising so we’re vigilant against the possibility of overflowing,” local official Takaaki Harano told AFP.

Scientists say climate change is intensifying the risk of heavy rain in Japan and elsewhere because a warmer atmosphere holds more water.

The weather agency said it had already been raining for over a week in the region.

“The area is very wet due to intermittent rainfall for over a week,” Yoshiyuki Toyoguchi, land ministry official in charge of rivers, told reporters.

“Even with a little rain, river levels tend to rise quickly, which will increase risk of flooding.”

In 2021, rain triggered a devastating landslide in the central resort town of Atami that killed 27 people.

And in 2018, floods and landslides killed more than 200 people in western Japan during the rainy season.