TOKYO – The death toll from torrential rains and floods in central and southwestern Japan has risen to 179, the government said on Wednesday, while the search and rescue efforts for the missing continue.
Floods and landslides triggered by the record rainfall since Thursday have devastated western Japan and ravaged Hiroshima and Ehime Prefectures, where thousands of houses were inundated and several populations left isolated.
Most of the fatalities occurred in the prefectures of Hiroshima in the west and Okayama and Ehime in the southwest, government spokesperson Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at the press conference on Wednesday.
Local media reported that the number of missing ranges between 39-56, citing the data announced by local authorities in different affected regions.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe traveled on Wednesday to Okayama in a helicopter of the Japan Self-Defense Forces to observe the search and rescue efforts as well as the disaster relief and response work.
Abe’s visit to Okayama, where around 50 people were killed in various accidents caused by rains and floods, took place after the conservative leader canceled his Europe and Middle East tours originally scheduled for this week.
Abe also plans to visit Hiroshima Prefecture, whose death toll is so far the highest at about 60, and Ehime Prefecture.
A total of more than 1,600 millimeters of rain has fallen in recent days and triggered some of Japan’s worst landslides and floods in 36 years.
Some 83,000 people are still in temporary shelters, while 255,000 citizens have lost access to a clean water supply, according to the state broadcaster NHK.
Rainfall caused rivers to flood, inundating entire towns, where water levels rose 3 meters in some places, and caused serious damage to buildings, roads, bridges and other infrastructure.