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12 dead, 54 missing as heavy rains, landslides feared to continue in wide areas of Japan

Local residents anxiously look on as rescue workers help other residents evacuate on a boat in Saka, Hiroshima Prefecture, on July 7, 2017. (Mainichi)

Twelve people were dead and at least 54 others remain unaccounted for as heavy rain continued to lash wide areas of the country, prompting the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) on July 7 to issue more warnings for landslides in extensive areas from western to central Japan.

The JMA issued an emergency heavy rain warning in Gifu Prefecture on the afternoon of July 7 while lifting such a warning in Tottori Prefecture. Currently, such warnings are in place in Gifu, Okayama, Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures. The agency cautioned that heavy downpours could again hit later on July 7 or 8 even in areas where rain had previously eased, and urged people across the country to take caution.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that the government is cooperating with local governments affected by the disaster to do its best to carry out search and rescue operations, placing priority on the protection of people's lives. He added that 48,000 rescue workers are engaged in search and rescue operations in disaster-hit areas.

Suga urged members of the public to exercise extreme caution as downpours could continue until July 8. "Heavy rain could fall on and off until tomorrow, possibly at record levels. We'd like people to pay close attention to evacuation advisories and other information," he told the news conference.

"This is heavy rain at a level we've never experienced," a JMA official said as the agency issued warnings in Okayama, Hiroshima, Tottori, Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures on July 6. It is the first time that the JMA has issued emergency heavy rain warnings in eight prefectures at the same time since the agency launched the system in 2013. An emergency heavy rain warning is issued in anticipation of extreme downpours that occur only once in several decades. The agency lifted the warnings in Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Saga and Nagasaki prefectures on the morning of July 7, but issued such a warning in Gifu Prefecture later in the afternoon while lifting one in place in Tottori Prefecture. Still, the agency advised those in Tottori Prefecture to be on alert against possible downpours.

Rescue workers search a home hit by a landslide for survivors in Moji Ward, Kitakyushu, on July 7, 2018. (Mainichi)

"Record-breaking rain was observed across the country. In fear of heavier downpours, we've issued emergency warnings in areas where the amount of rain hasn't exceeded the standards of such a warning system," a JMA official explained.

Twelve people were confirmed dead across Japan, while 54 people remain unaccounted for. Three people are in a state of cardio-respiratory arrest. In Hiroshima Prefecture, emergency services have received reports that residents were buried alive as they were hit by landslides.

As of 11 p.m. on July 6, evacuation orders had been issued to about 2.82 million people and evacuation advisories had been issued to some 4.22 million people in 23 prefectures, most of them in the Kinki, Kyushu and Chugoku regions in western Japan.

Landslides occurred in several locations in Hiroshima Prefecture on the night of July 6, and there are reports that residents were buried. Local emergency services are continuing search and rescue operations.

The Hiroshima Prefectural Government asked the Self-Defense Forces at around 9 p.m. on July 6 to dispatch personnel to assist in rescue operations.

Asakita Ward in the city of Hiroshima was hit by 289.5 millimeters of rain over a 72-hour period up to 9:50 p.m. on July 6. Such heavy rain has made the ground loose, which could lead to landslides. In the city of Hiroshima, a massive landslide occurred in August 2014, killing 77 people.

Fears that the Katsura River in Kyoto Prefecture could overflow on the night of July 6 forced the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry's Kinki Regional Development Bureau to release water from the Hiyoshi Dam situated on the upper reaches of the river in Tannan, Kyoto Prefecture.

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