(Yatsushiro) Rescue continued on Tuesday their “race against the clock” in the island of Kyushu (southwest of Japan) to save residents stranded by floods and landslides that caused at least 50 died, while heavy rains persisted.
France Media Agency
Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga confirmed on Tuesday the death of 50 people, while two others were on cardiopulmonary arrest, a term used in Japan to refer to a death not yet officially declared by a doctor.
Furthermore, 14 people were still missing.
Heavy rains should persist in the coming days and cross the country from west to east, warned the Japanese Meteorological Agency, while lowering by one notch its flood and landslide alert level, that she had previously raised to the maximum.
“It's a race against time,” said Yutaro Hamasaki, an official in the Kumamoto region, the hardest hit by the floods on Saturday morning on the island of Kyushu, interviewed by the AFP. “We really have to step up the pace because time is running out. We will not give up. ”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the doubling of the mobilized emergency personnel (police, firefighters, coast guards and members of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces), passed to 80 00 0.
Furious rivers swept bridges and made roads impassable in Kyushu, forcing rescuers to operate in canoes or helicopters only.
In Omuta (northwest of Kyushu), dozens of children spent the night from Monday to Tuesday on the floor of their primary school, after the building's ground floor flooded. They were rescued on Tuesday morning.
“The shoe cabinets were taken away (by the water, note) and shoes were floating,” testified a daughter of 11 years interviewed by a local newspaper. “Children were crying because they were worried that they would not be able to go home and the heavy rain frightened them.”
Kentaro Oishi, who usually offers rafting trips to tourists in Hitoyoshi, told AFP he was called in to help residents stranded by the water. “I have been rafting for 20 years, but I didn’t never imagined navigating the city streets ”.
Among the deceased are 14 residents of a retirement home who were unable to evacuate when the water flooded the building.
“The whole ground floor was flooded, we couldn't access it. Some (residents, editor's note) had managed to take refuge on the first floor. I had never seen anything like it, “said a rescuer on NHK public television.
Evacuations were further complicated by fear of the coronavirus, although Japan has so far been relatively spared from the pandemic, with less than 1000 death for near 20 00 0 cases in total.
The need to observe a physical distance has thus reduced the reception capacity of emergency accommodation centers, while the evacuation recommendations – not compulsory – concern hundreds of thousands of people.
In the town of Yatsushiro, authorities have turned a gymnasium into a shelter, where families were separated by cardboard partitions to prevent the spread of the virus, an AFP photographer said.
According to local media, some residents preferred to sleep in their cars, for fear of being infected in a shelter.
For local economic life already hard hit by the collapse of tourism due to the pandemic, this natural disaster comes at the worst time.
“This magnificent place was turned upside down overnight,” Yuji Hashimoto, head of the tourist office in Yatsushiro, a city known for its onsen, told AFP.
“The damage is beyond comprehension […]. It is a double penalty, when our city was already suffering from the impact of the coronavirus, “he lamented.
The rainy season is currently in full swing in the Japanese archipelago, a period of high risk in terms of floods, mudslides and landslides.
Climate change also plays a role, as a warmer atmosphere retains more water, increasing the risk and intensity of extreme precipitation.