At LEAST 36 people, including several children, were killed in Japan yesterday when landslides triggered by torrential rain struck the outskirts of Hiroshima.
Police said the death toll could rise further as seven people were also missing after a month’s worth of rain fell overnight on Tuesday, loosening slopes already saturated by heavy rain over the past weeks.
“There was rain and thunder all night, beating down so hard I was scared to go outside,” a resident told Fuji TV. “Great big drops. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Helicopters clattered overhead, lifting out survivors, as rescue workers searched through mud and piles of stones in residential areas about three miles from the city centre.
Houses had been pushed 100 metres by the landslide in the worst-hit area, where thick, knee-high mud hampered rescue efforts. “The rain was just pouring down and the street in front of my house turned into a river,” a man in his seventies told national broadcaster NHK.
Hiroshima city authorities issued an evacuation advisory notice about an hour after the first landslide yesterday.
“Something went wrong in our analysis… we failed to issue an evacuation advisory ahead of the disaster. Looking back, I believe this is something we need to amend,” an official at the city’s fire department said.
The soil in the area was of a kind that absorbed water until it suddenly loosened and slid, increasing the danger, disaster management experts told NHK.
About nine inches of rain fell in the area in 24 hours, a record-breaking level equivalent to a month’s worth of rain in a usual August, the Meteorological Agency said. Roughly half of that rain fell in one hour.
The force of the landslide crumbled asphalt roads, while streams of mud tore through neighbourhoods, turning houses into piles of twisted wreckage.
More rain was expected in western Japan last night.
Prime minister Shinzo Abe cut short his vacation to head back to Tokyo. He said he would dispatch military personnel to help with rescue efforts. By yesterday evening, about 500 troops had been sent in.
Damage from land and mudslides has increased over the past few decades due to more frequent heavy rains, despite extensive work on stabilising slopes.
In the past decade there have been nearly 1,200 landslides a year, according to the land ministry, up from an average of about 770 a year in the previous decade. In October last year, multiple mudslides on Izu-Oshima, an island south of Tokyo, killed 35 people, four of whose bodies were never recovered. Those slides followed a typhoon that dumped a record 32 inches of rain in a single day. And in 1999 landslides killed 31 people in Hiroshima, including six in the same area hit this time.