Rescuers dug into mud and debris on Monday in search of dozens of people who fear they might disappear after a massive landslide ravaged a Japanese resort, killing at least three people.
Eighty people were still missing, according to Shizuoka Prefecture disaster management official Takamichi Sugiyama. Authorities were preparing to release their names, hoping to reach some who may not have been caught in the landslide.
Initially 147 of those people were unreachable, but that number was revised downwards after city officials confirmed some had evacuated safely or were absent when the disaster struck, he said.
The disaster is yet another ordeal as authorities prepare for the Tokyo Olympics, which are due to start in less than three weeks, as Japan remains in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters that rescuers, including police, vigilantes, firefighters and coastguard personnel, were doing all they could “to rescue those who might be buried in the mud and wait. help as soon as possible “.
At least 20 people were initially described as missing. Since Atami is a vacation town, many apartments and houses are unoccupied for long periods of the year with their listed residents living in other places.
The landslide occurred on Saturday after several days of heavy rain. Witnesses heard a giant roar as a small stream turned into a torrent, carrying black mud, trees, rocks and building debris.
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Passers-by have been heard gasping in horror on cellphone videos taken as this happened.
Like many beach and mountain towns in Japan, Atami is built on steep hills, its roads winding through chunks of forest and dense vegetation. While other parts of the country expected heavy downpours during what is known as the rainy season in Japan, authorities elsewhere have also surveyed the hills. NHK aired a program on Monday about the risk factors and warning signs that could precede a landslide.
“A lot of people have seen their homes, their belongings and everything taken away. They will not be able to return home, and it must take an unimaginable effort to recover,” said actor Naoto Date, who was visiting the area. when the landslide hit. .
As of Monday morning, three people were found dead, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency and local officials said. Twenty-three people stranded by the mudslide were rescued, including three who were injured.
Shizuoka Governor Heita Kawakatsu told a press conference on Sunday that upstream construction may have been a factor in the mudslide. Citing a preliminary drone examination, Kawakatsu said massive amounts of soil that had been piled up in the construction area were all washed away.