Grim task: Defence personnel searching for victims in mud two days after a landslide hit a residential area in Hiroshima. - AFP
TOKYO: The death toll from catastrophic landslides in western Japan could more than double, a police tally showed as the number of missing people rose to at least 51, in addition to the 39 confirmed dead.
Dozens of homes were destroyed when mountainsides collapsed on the outskirts of Hiroshima before dawn on Wednesday, sending tonnes of mud, rocks and debris crashing into suburban communities.
More than 4,000 people have now been ordered to evacuate their homes after forecasters warned more rain was on the way to already soaked hillsides, heaping misery on an area that has seen record downpours.
Firefighters, police and soldiers had to abandon search efforts overnight because of the risk of further landfalls, wary of the death of a colleague killed in a secondary mudslide on Wednesday, along with a small boy he was trying to carry to safety.
The confirmed death toll remained unchanged yesterday at 39, but the number of missing was raised, having climbed steadily over the last two days from initial single figures.
Officials said improved coordination between emergency services and local authorities meant they were now aware of more people who had not been heard of since the disaster.
“We initially counted only the people who were certain to be missing, such as those witnessed being carried away in gushing water,” said a spokesman at Hiroshima prefecture police.
“As we continued to investigate and assess the situation, the number rose,” he said.
Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui noted the clock was ticking and the golden window of 72 hours after the disaster, in which experts reckon survivors are most likely to be found, was closing.
“I want (rescuers) to save the lives of many missing people within these hours,” the mayor told an emergency press conference in the city, according to Jiji Press news agency.
He dismissed charges that the city was too slow to issue evacuation advisories. — AFP