A powerful mudslide carrying a deluge of black water and debris crashed into rows of houses in a city west of Tokyo following heavy rains on Saturday, leaving at least 19 people missing, said officials.
Dozens of houses may have been buried in Atami, a town known for its hot springs. Shizuoka Prefecture spokesperson Takamichi Sugiyama said.
Public broadcaster NHK gave the number of missing people at 20, but Sugiyama said the prefecture had confirmed at least 19, although he said the number could increase.
Torrential rains hit parts of Japan from the start of the week. Experts said the land had come loose, increasing the risk of a landslide in a country filled with valleys and mountains.
Sugiyama said it had rained heavily in the area all morning. Self-defense forces will join firefighters and police in the rescue operation, he added. Evacuation warnings have been issued for a large area.
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The landslides seemed to have struck several times, about as fast as a car. The footage showed a powerful black mudslide down the side of a mountain, toppling and crushing houses and sweeping cars in its path. Helpless neighbors watched in horror, some recording on their phones.
NHK TV footage showed part of a bridge had collapsed.
Atami is a scenic resort town in Shizuoka Prefecture, about 100 km southwest of Tokyo. The area affected by the mudslide, Izusan, includes hot springs, residential areas, shopping streets and a famous shrine.