By MARI YAMAGUCHI
A schoolyard of a junior high school is seen flooded following heavy rains in Gero, Gifu prefecture, southern Japan Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Floodwaters flowed down streets in southern Japanese towns hit by heavy rains.
TOKYO (AP) — Pounding rain that already caused deadly floods in southern Japan was moving northeast Wednesday, battering large areas of Japan’s main island, swelling more rivers, triggering mudslides and destroying houses and roads. At least 58 people have died in several days of flooding.
Parts of Nagano and Gifu, including areas known for scenic mountain trails and hot springs, were flooded by massive downpours.
Footage on NHK television showed a swollen river gouging into the embankment, destroying a highway, while in the city of Gero, the rising river was flowing just below a bridge.
Flooding and mudslides disrupted parts of a main road connecting Kamikochi and Matsumoto, two main tourist destinations in Nagano, stranding hundreds of residents and visitors, though they are believed to have safely evacuated. In neighboring Gifu, hundreds of others were also isolated in hot springs town of Gero and Ontake.
In another mountainous scenic town of Takayama, several houses were hit by a mudslide, their residents all safely rescued.
As of Wednesday morning, the death toll from the heavy rains starting over the weekend had risen to 58, most of them from the hardest-hit Kumamoto prefecture. Four others were found in Fukuoka, another prefecture on Kyushu, Japan’s third-largest island.
At the peak, as many as 3.6 million people were advised to evacuate, although it wasn’t mandatory and the number who took shelter was not known. About half of the advisories have been lifted by Wednesday afternoon.
In places where rain had subsided, residents were busy cleaning up their homes and workplaces.
In Gero, a man washed down mud at the entrance of his riverside house despite the evacuation advisory. “I was told to run away and my neighbors all went, but I stayed," he said. "I didn’t want my house to be washed away in my absence.”
In Oita, teachers at a nursery school were wiping the floor and drying the wet furniture. “I hope we can return to normal life as soon as possible,” Principal Yuko Kitaguchi told NHK.
Though the rains were causing fresh flooding threats in central Japan, flooding was still affecting the southern region. And search and rescue operations continued in Kumamoto, where 14 people are still missing.
Tens of thousands of army troops, police and other rescue workers mobilized from around the country to assist, and the rescue operations have been hampered by the rains, flooding, mudslides and disrupted communications.
In Kagoshima, a pickup truck was hit by a mudslide and fell into the ocean, but the driver was airlifted out with a head injury, according to Fuji Television. In another town in Oita, two brothers in their 80s were dug up alive by rescuers after a mudslide smashed into their hillside house, NHK said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga urged residents to use caution. “Disasters may happen even with little rain where grounds have loosened from previous rainfalls,” he said.
Suga pledged continuing search and rescue efforts, as well as emergency funds for the affected areas.
Japan is at high risk of heavy rain in early summer when wet and warm air from the East China Sea flows into a seasonal rain front above the country. In July 2018, more than 200 people, about half of them in Hiroshima, died from heavy rain and flooding in southwestern Japan.
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