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Japan floods, mudslides kill at least 44 as streets turn to rivers

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Old people's home badly hit with 14 dead, including some trapped in wheelchairs

TOKYO: Torrential rain hit Japan's south-western island of Kyushu yesterday, with at least one more river bursting its banks, as the death toll from three days of floods and mudslides rose to 44, including 14 at an old people's home.

Evacuation orders were issued for more than half a million island residents, as well as evacuation advisories for tens of thousands more in western Japan, broadcaster NHK said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the rain was forecast to head east by tomorrow and ordered round-the-clock search and rescue operations. Ten people were missing, NHK said.

TV pictures showed streets turned into rivers rushing by at waist height, a collapsed bridge, upturned cars and a helicopter winching a man to safety from an inundated house.


Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said 40,000 members of the Self-Defence Force were involved in rescue missions.

He added that evacuation centres were also working on preventing the spread of the coronavirus by distributing disinfectant and asking evacuees to self-distance.

The floods are Japan's worst natural disaster since Typhoon Hagibis killed about 90 people in October.

Tens of thousands of rescue workers combed through the wreckage of houses shattered by deadly floods and landslides in a desperate search for survivors.

"A local firefighter in the western region of Kagoshima told AFP they had deployed boats to rescue 11 people but that conditions were making it hard to reach some of those stranded.

"Calls came from people telling us that they wanted to flee their home but they could not do it on their own," he said.

"Some roads are submerged and you cannot drive through them."

In one of the hardest-hit areas, residents spelled the words "rice, water, SOS" on the ground, while others waved towels and called for rescue and relief goods.

At a nursing home for the elderly, 14 people died when water from a nearby river inundated the ground floor, leaving those in wheelchairs unable to reach higher ground.

Emergency services, aided by locals in rafts, managed to rescue around 50 staff members and residents from the facility, bringing them to safety by boat.

Heavy rain was expected to continue and the Japan Meteorological Agency issued a non-compulsory evacuation order for hundreds of thousands of residents in Kumamoto and neighbouring Kagoshima prefecture.

Up to 250mm of rain was expected in the 24-hour period through this morning in the southern part of Kyushu Island, which includes areas hit hard by the flooding, the agency said.

"It's such a mess," resident Hirotoshi Nishi told public broadcaster NHK as he swept debris from his mud-strewn front room.

"Many pieces of wood came into my house. I don't know what to do."

Mr Hirokazu Kosaki, a 75-year-old bus driver in the town of Ashikita, told Jiji press: "It was nothing but water as far as I could see." - REUTERS, AFP