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Emperor, empress visit July deluge victims in Okayama

Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko arrive at a park in the Mabi district of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, on Sept. 14, 2018. (Pool photo/Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Okayama Prefecture on Friday and met victims of the deadly July downpours in western Japan.

The imperial couple visited areas hard hit by torrential rains that caused widespread landslides and flooding, killing more than 200 people mainly in Okayama, Hiroshima and Ehime prefectures.

They met some 30 survivors and members of bereaved families in the hard-hit Mabi district of Kurashiki city.

"It must have been hard after the disaster," the emperor told Kensuke Saito, 51, who lost his 76-year-old mother. The empress took his mother's photo in her hands and said, "She looks vigorous. You must miss her very much."

The emperor praised a man who was involved in rescue efforts using boats, saying, "You did such a good job." The empress told each one of the people gathered to look after themselves.

They had planned to visit both Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures on Thursday but were forced to postpone the visit to Hiroshima due to bad weather. They will now do so at another time.

A day trip to Ehime is also being arranged for the couple on Sept. 20, according to the Imperial Household Agency.

Prior to this trip, the emperor and empress invited the governors of Okayama, Hiroshima and Ehime prefectures to the Imperial Palace in July and August to hear about the storm damage.

Their last visit to a disaster-affected area took place in June when they traveled to Fukushima to see the reconstruction from the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

Hoping to lessen the burden on local governments to provide security, the emperor and empress often choose to make day trips to disaster-hit areas, sometimes using helicopters.

In May 2016, they flew to Kumamoto Prefecture on a chartered flight about a month after strong earthquakes hit the southwestern Japan region, before boarding a Self-Defense Forces helicopter to visit evacuees from the quake.

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