ATAMI, Japan — Rescue workers sifted through mud and debris Monday in the aftermath of a massive landslide that killed at least three people in a Japanese coastal vacation town.
According to Shizuoka prefectural disaster management official Takamichi Sugiyama, 80 individuals are still missing. Officials were ready to disclose their identities in the hopes of reaching those who had escaped the avalanche.
147 individuals were initially unreachable, but that figure was reduced after municipal officials established that some had successfully fled or were gone when the tragedy happened, according to the report.
The catastrophe adds to the difficulties faced by officials as they prepare for the Tokyo Olympics, which begin in less than three weeks and come at a time when Japan is still dealing with the coronavirus epidemic.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters that rescuers, including police, self-defence soldiers, firemen, and coast guard members, are doing everything they can “to rescue people who may be buried under the mud and waiting for aid as quickly as can.”
At least 20 people were reported missing at first. Because Atami is primarily a tourist destination, many apartments and residences are vacant for significant periods of the year, with their reported inhabitants residing elsewhere.
Others may be visiting family or friends, or may not be answering the phone, according to officials. On Monday, they aim to contact more of the individuals who have gone missing.
After many days of severe rainfall, the landslide happened on Saturday. Witnesses reported hearing a massive boom as a tiny creek transformed into a torrent, bringing black muck, branches, boulders, and debris from nearby buildings.
On mobile phone footage recorded at the time, bystanders could be heard gasping in terror.
Atami, like many other Japanese coastal and mountain towns, is constructed on steep slopes, with roads meandering through patches of woodland and dense foliage. Authorities in other regions of the nation were examining slopes as heavy rains were expected in what is known as Japan’s rainy season. On Monday, NHK broadcasted a show regarding landslide risk factors and warning signals.
Hundreds of troops, firefighters, and other rescue personnel toiled in the rain and fog in search of any survivors, backed up by three coast guard ships and six military drones.
Atami’s Izusan district, which is famed for its hot springs, temple, and commercial lanes, was hit by the mudslide. Atami is roughly 100 kilometres (60 miles) southwest of Tokyo and has a population of 36,800 people.
When Naoto Date, an actor who was visiting the Izusan region after a filming session, awoke to the sound of sirens in the neighbourhood, he was in his mother’s house. He made sure his mother travelled to a local community centre to evacuate, and he contacted all of his friends and classmates to make sure they were safe.
“This is where I grew up, and this is where my classmates and friends reside. Date told The Associated Press in a video chat from his house in Atami, “I’m very sorry to see my neighbourhood, where I used to play with my pals, is now devastated.”
The date stated that all of his pals had successfully fled and that his mother had relocated to a hotel in a more secure place. Date, who normally resides in Tokyo, said he was avoiding evacuation centres because he was worried about the coronavirus.
“I used to take it lightly, and I regret it,” he admitted. He captured pictures of murky water flowing down and rescuers slogging into knee-deep muck in his area.
He also proceeded to the sea, where he saw overturned automobiles and debris from damaged homes floating in the water. “Many individuals saw their houses and possessions wiped away in the floodwaters. They won’t be able to return home, and recovering from this will take an enormous amount of effort.”
As of early Monday, three individuals had been found dead, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency and local officials. The mudslide trapped twenty-three individuals, three of whom were injured, were rescued.
Heita Kawakatsu, the governor of Shizuoka, said during a press conference on Sunday that works upstream might have contributed to the mudslide. According to Kawakatsu, enormous volumes of earth that had been stacked up in the construction area had all washed away, citing a preliminary assessment by drone.
Kawakatsu stated that he will look into the matter. According to rumours in the media, a planned home complex was shelved when its operator fell into financial difficulties.
On a government-issued danger map, the Izusan region is one of 660,000 places around the country classified as prone to mudslides, but it is not well advertised and public awareness is low.
Early July, at the conclusion of a rainy season, is notorious for deadly flooding and mudslides caused by heavy rains, which many scientists believe are becoming harsher as a result of global warming.
Flooding and mudslides induced by heavy rain killed almost 80 people in Kumamoto and four other prefectures in the Kyushu area of southern Japan a year ago. In July 2018, hillsides in Hiroshima’s densely populated residential districts fell, killing 20 people. Mudslides and floods in the Kyushu area killed 40 people in 2017.