Death toll in Japan flood climbs to 134, 88 missing

Frederick Owens
July 11, 2018

Japan's government said 176 people have been confirmed dead after last week's heavy rains in western Japan as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits a hard-hit city.

He made no public comments, speaking briefly and privately with individuals, including an elderly lady who bowed slightly as the prime minister approached.

Japan monitors weather conditions and issues warnings early, but its dense population means every bit of usable land is built on in the mostly mountainous nation, leaving it prone to disasters.

With questions mounting about why the rains were so deadly, top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said disaster management policies would be reexamined.

Some 75,000 emergency-response personnel, activated to deal with the country's worst flooding disaster since 1983, are racing against time to find survivors and reach those who are stranded.

Over 10,000 people are still in shelters across large parts of central and western Japan, local media said, including at a school in the town of Kurashiki in Okayama prefecture.

"We can accept losing things like home appliances, hurts that our memories are all gone", said Hiroko Fukuda. "I felt helpless", she said, retrieving a photo of her children playing baseball.

"It hurts that our memories are gone".

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"I'm a secondhand book seller", Ono said.

Naoaki Ogawa, 68, was still at home with his wife, daughter and grandson on Friday night, when they saw a wave of mud carrying trees and cars with it tumble down the hill above and engulf the neighbouring house.

Local government officials said pumping trucks were being deployed to help restore access to some of the worst-hit areas, and on Monday flood water was finally starting to recede as the rains stopped.

And despite the let-up in the rains, new flood warnings were still being issued on Wednesday.

A new evacuation order went out today in a part of Hiroshima prefecture, after a river blocked by debris overflowed its banks, affecting 23,000 people.

Most fled with only the clothes on their backs, and adding insult to injury, the exhausted evacuees also have little access to information about the safety of not only friends and family, but also if the water has receded and if the roads are clear so they can try to return to their homes.

Authorities downgraded the order on Wednesday but warned that some risk of flooding remained.

Rain tapered off across the region battered by the downpour, revealing blue skies and scorching sun forecast to push temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), fuelling fears of heatstroke in areas cut off from power or water. At a major supermarket in town, employees sold bottled water and tea, cups of noodles and other preserved foods that survived the floods, while employees cleaned damaged merchandise, throwing items into dozens of plastic bags.

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