HIROSHIMA, Japan — Rescuers were searching for dozens still missing in southwestern Japan on Monday after heavy rains that left shocked residents returning to muddy homes unsure where to start the recovery and cleanup due to the extent of damage from flooding and mudslides.
At least 100 people died or are presumed dead, with more than 60 still unaccounted for, most of them in the hardest-hit Hiroshima area.
Seiji Toda was shocked and helpless when he saw his restaurant, which he opened nearly 40 years ago, filled with mud heaped about 1 meter (yards) from the floor. Tables, covered with clean white tablecloths before he left, were all mud-covered, chairs thrown to the floor.
“I had never seen anything like this,” he said on TBS television, standing outside his restaurant in Hiroshima city while wearing a helmet. He says it would be impossible to clean up the mess by hand.
Right next to his restaurant were heaps of broken trees and other debris. Several cars were still half buried in the mud.
The assessment of casualties has been difficult because of the widespread area affected by the rainfall, flooding and landslides since late last week. Authorities warned that landslides could strike even after rain subsides as the calamity shaped up to be potentially the worst in decades.
Some homes were smashed. Others were tilting precariously. Rivers overflowed, turning towns into lakes, leaving dozens of people stranded on rooftops. Military paddle boats and helicopters have brought people to the ground.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday that 87 people were confirmed dead and 13 others were without vital signs when they were found.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government has expended the search and rescue effort, dispatching 73,000 troops and emergency workers. “The rescue teams are doing their utmost.”
In large parts of Hiroshima, water streamed through a residential area, strewn with fallen telephone poles, uprooted trees and mud over the weekend.
Toda, the restaurant owner, said he took precautions because of his fresh memory of flooding four years ago that killed more than 70 in Hiroshima. Others were caught off guard.
“It gives me a chill thinking what could have happened,” said Eiko Yamane on Sunday as she recalled realizing how suddenly water was seeping the tires of the car she was driving. She was able to escape.
In another hard-hit city of Kurashiki in the neighboring Okayama prefecture, a man who lost his mother in a flooded house the day after speaking on the phone. “My mother lived alone in that house over there and we spoke on the phone the night before,” he told TBS television, refusing to show his face. “I was hoping she managed to have escaped.”
Parts of southwestern Japan had as much as 10 centimeters (3 inches) per hour of rain, the highest in decades, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. By Monday, rain warnings have been lifted.
In the Uwajima town in Ehime prefecture, an overflowing river washed debris down to the coast, turning seawater partially muddy. A 64-year-old man and a 9 year old boy were found dead underneath a mudslide.