Deadly Earth: Self Defence Force's rescue workers trying to clear a route at a landslide site in Hiroshima. - EPA
TOKYO: Thousands of rescuers combed through the wreckage of homes engulfed by landslides in western Japan in the slim hope of finding survivors, a day after a wall of mud claimed at least 39 lives.
Police officers, firefighters and soldiers worked through the night in a desperate bid to find seven people still unaccounted for among the sludge and rubble.
Dozens of houses were buried when hillsides collapsed after torrential downpours in Hiroshima that saw more than a month’s rainfall in just three hours.
Throughout Wednesday there were moments of hope, with survivors who had sought refuge on the upper floors of their homes airlifted to safety, but there were also bodies carried away from the devastation.
Members of a local high school baseball team were among teenagers who held an all-night vigil for one of their number, whose half submerged house was the focus of floodlight efforts.
“I saw tweets (saying he was missing),” one youngster told Fuji Television.
“I want him to be found as soon as possible because he must be in pain,” the boy said.
The network said the search at what remained of the property continued into yesterday but neither the boy, nor his father, had been found.
Among the 39 known victims were two brothers, aged two and 11, who were confirmed dead after being pulled out of their inundated home.
A neighbour who took part in the search told the Fuji network that the ground floor of the house was almost completely filled with mud.
“We collected shovels from the neighbourhood. The parents just had to believe the boys could hear them. They kept saying: ‘Breathe!’ and ‘Reply!’
“The mother just kept shouting,” he said.
It emerged yesterday that the 53-year-old rescuer who was killed in a secondary landslide on Wednesday had died with a toddler in his arms.
Noriyoshi Masaoka, a firefighter with 35 years’ experience, had battled through the slurry of the initial mountain collapse to rescue five people before going back to help more. — AFP