Two women were confirmed dead after torrents of mud crashed through part of the hot-spring resort of Atami in central Japan on Saturday (3 July) morning, following days of heavy downpours.
Nineteen people have been rescued and around 20 others are still missing, the town’s disaster management spokesman Yuta Hara said.
Hara said around 130 homes and other buildings had been destroyed as the landslide swept through the residential area, leaving behind a quagmire that stretched down to the nearby coast.
Vehicles were buried and buildings tipped from their foundations. Hara said the landslide was 1km long and 120m wide at some points.
Hundreds of rescue workers and military personnel were combing through the mud and debris with diggers and on foot, climbing across cracked roofs and sticking poles into the ground to check for bodies.
Rain hampered rescue operations, however, with workers forced to abandon the site multiple times as smaller landslides took place and disaster warning alerts were issued.
More landslides feared
Atami, around 90km south-west of Tokyo, saw rainfall of 313mm in just 48 hours to Saturday – higher than the average monthly total for July, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Much of Japan is currently in its annual rainy season, which lasts several weeks and often causes floods and landslides.
Scientists say climate change is intensifying the phenomenon because a warmer atmosphere holds more water, resulting in more intense rainfall.
More downpours are forecast in the coming days across Japan’s main island.
Residents in many other cities in Shizuoka have also been ordered to evacuate.
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