TOKYO – Japan continues to feel the devastating effects of the torrential rains that have fallen since Thursday, which have left at least 179 people dead.
The search and rescue efforts are being hampered by the magnitude of floods due to heavy rains and damage to infrastructure, such as bridges and roads, as well as by the persistent risk of fresh mudslides or landslides, and more storms.
The latest death toll stands at 179, the government’s spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said at a press conference on Wednesday, while the national media put the number of missing people between 39-50, based on data provided by the authorities in different regions hit by the disaster.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe flew to the southwestern prefecture of Okayama, one of the worst hit areas, in a Self-Defense Forces (Army) helicopter to monitor the ongoing rescue operations and assistance to the tens of thousands of people affected by the catastrophe.
Abe is due to travel to Hiroshima in the west and Ehime in the southwest, after he canceled his visit to Europe and the Middle East scheduled for this week.
There are more than 2,300 refugees in Kurashiki alone staying in temporary shelters such as schools, temples or other public buildings, where they are looked after by local authorities and volunteers, despite constant water and power outages as well as transportation problems.
“We have experience in dealing with typhoons and torrential rains, but we had never experienced a catastrophe on this scale, so we are facing certain difficulties and confusion,” the head of natural disasters management at the Kurashiki municipality told EFE.
Some 7,200 people have been evacuated to temporary shelters in 15 prefectures of the country, while 244,000 homes continue without water supplies, public broadcaster NHK reported.
Nearly 75,000 army, police and fire brigade personnel continue to carry out search and rescue efforts for the missing with the help of 83 helicopters and dozens of vessels.