Race to save flood victims as toll rises to 81
Japan has warned of a "race against time" to rescue victims of torrential rainfall that has killed more than 81 people.
Record rainfall has deluged southwestern Japan since Thursday, causing widespread flash flooding, landslides, burst riverbanks and travel chaos.
The death toll rose to at least 81 yesterday, with dozens still missing and several million forced to evacuate their homes as a result of the rainfall.
"We've never experienced this kind of rain before," an official at the Japanese Meteorological Agency said, adding: "This is a situation of extreme danger."
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set up a government crisis committee to deal with the disaster yesterday, mobilising 54,000 rescue workers from the Self-Defence Forces, police and fire departments.
"There are still many people missing and others in need of help; we are working against time," said Mr Abe.
Among the worst-hit areas was Hiroshima prefecture, where some villages were hit by landslides and other were almost entirely submerged, forcing desperate residents to take shelter on rooftops.
A three-year-old girl, whose home was hit by a landslide in Hiroshima prefecture, was found dead by a search team.
"It's very painful," said one elderly man watching nearby. "I have a granddaughter the same age. If it were her, I wouldn't be able to stop crying."
"The area became an ocean," said Nobue Kakumoto (82), a local resident. "I'm worried because I have no idea how long it will stay like this."
Yoshihide Fujitani, a disaster-management official in Hiroshima, said: "We are carrying out rescue operations around the clock. We are also looking after evacuees and restoring lifeline infrastructure, like water and gas."
Another badly affected region is Kurashiki, a small town in western Okayama prefecture, where rescuers fought to evacuate several hundred trapped people, including children and elderly, from a hospital.
"I'm most grateful to the rescuers," said Shigeyuki Asano, a 79-year-old patient who spent a night without electricity or water.
"I feel so relieved that I am now liberated from such a bad-smelling, dark place."
Two sisters from an elementary school of just six pupils on the small island of Nuwa in Ehime prefecture were among the dead.
The younger was a star and the hope of the depopulated island, the principal told NHK TV.
"It was such a sudden disaster, I just cannot come to grips with it," the head teacher said.
While the weather eased up slightly in some regions yesterday, emergency warnings for severe rain remained in effect across three prefectures, with 28cm forecast to fall in places by this morning.
Meanwhile, as rescue operations continued, landslide warnings were issued in more than a quarter of the nation's prefectures and evacuation orders remained in place for at least two million people.
The heavy rainfall has been attributed to the remnants of a typhoon feeding into a seasonal rainy front.