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2 dead, 17 missing after flooding, landslides in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures

In this photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter on July 6, 2017, a section of a bridge in Hita, Oita Prefecture, has been swept away by floodwaters. (Mainichi)

At least two people have died and 17 remain missing or cannot be contacted after record-breaking amounts of rain lashed Fukuoka and Oita prefectures overnight.

Early on July 6, emergency responders pulled one body from a landslide in the Haki district of the city of Asakura, Fukuoka Prefecture. A man in his 40s was also found caught up in a landslide in the Oita Prefecture city of Hita in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest. He was subsequently pronounced dead. In addition, two women were said to have suffered extensive injuries.

As of 1:30 p.m., six people were reported missing or could not be contacted in Fukuoka Prefecture, along with 11 in Oita Prefecture. The Self-Defense Forces (SDF), police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel are trying to quickly aid trapped residents and locate the missing as rain continues to fall intermittently.

On the morning of July 6 in the city of Asakura, Fukuoka Prefecture, the SDF and other emergency responders cleared mud from roads with heavy machinery to rescue and move 54 residents, including 18 students from Masue Elementary School, who were left stranded when floodwaters engulfed the roads around the school. Excluding the elderly and young children, those who could walk left the school around 10 a.m. on foot and met a bus that evacuated them to Haki Junior High School. Those who could not make the trek on foot were rescued via helicopter.

According to one evacuee, water overflowing a nearby river flooded the first floor of the school building, and the students, teachers, and local residents escaped to third floor, where they spent the night. In darkness as a result of a power outage, the evacuees shared bread they had brought with them and the children slept on gym mats. In order to calm the students, the teachers reportedly drew pictures and sang songs with the children.

The children who arrived at the evacuation center in the junior high school cried out in relief. The teachers and parents met their arrival with tears, giving the children rice balls they had prepared and saying they were relieved that the students were safe.

Meanwhile, in the Sugawa area of Asakura, one 82-year-old resident reported that about 10 houses were isolated.

"Power and water are both out, and there is nothing to eat. We can't watch television so we have no idea what is happening," the resident said. "I hope help arrives soon."

Daisuke Matsukawa, who owns a watch shop in Asakura's Haki district, was unable to sleep as he has been unable to contact his wife Shoko, who returned to her parents' home in the village of Toho. "I just want to know if my wife is all right," Matsukawa said, as his 4-year-old daughter covered her ears at the siren of a passing fire truck.

Residents across Oita Prefecture also spent an uneasy night on July 5 due to landslides and overflowing rivers. In the city of Hita, worried residents stood bewildered at the sight of an approximately 80-meter-long steel bridge belonging to the Kyushu Railway Co.'s Kyudai Main Line swallowed by the muddy flood waters of the Kagetsu River.

"The local government was told that there were few steel reinforcement bars on the columns supporting the bridge, and that there was a problem with its safety, and the bridge was washed away just as expected," lamented a resident. Roughly 500 meters downstream from the bridge, erosion of a bank that left one corner of a house hanging over the swollen river could be seen among other damage.

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