Officials reported Sunday that a rush of mud swept away homes and cars in a resort town southwest of Tokyo, killing at least two people and leaving about 20 others missing.
The landslide, which was triggered by days of heavy rain, struck early Saturday morning, sweeping away hillside homes and converting residential areas into mud that stretched all the way down to the coast.
In Atami, where hundreds of firefighters, military forces, and three coast guard ships worked from dawn Saturday to try to reach individuals believed to be trapped or carried away by the mudslide, ten people were rescued and up to 80 homes were buried.
“It’s possible that the number of damaged houses and buildings is as many as 130. I mourn the loss of life,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told ministers at an emergency meeting.
“This rainy-season front is expected to keep causing heavy rain in many areas. There is a fear that land disasters could occur even when the rain stops,” he warned.
About 1,000 rescuers, including 140 military personnel, were involved in the relief efforts, a Shizuoka prefecture official told the AFP news agency.
“We are trying our best to search for survivors as quickly as possible while carrying out the operation very carefully as it is still raining,” he added.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has set up a task force for the rescue effort.
According to public broadcaster NHK, rainfall totaled 313mm in just 48 hours in Atami, around 90 kilometers (55 miles) southwest of Tokyo. This is more than the usual monthly total for July of 242.5mm.
“Landslides can occur again and again at the same place even if the rain stops. Residents and rescuers should remain on alert,” Takeo Moriwaki, professor of geotechnical engineering at Hiroshima Institute of Technology, told AFP
According to media reports, about 387 survivors taken shelter at evacuation centers, where people wearing masks kept their distance from other families because of fears of coronavirus infection.