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Death toll reaches 176 as rescuers search for survivors of western Japan rains

Firefighters search for missing people at a site of a major landslide in the town of Kumano in Hiroshima Prefecture on July 11, 2018. (Mainichi)
Tomoya Tanaka, 43, who led a team of disaster response experts from the Osaka Municipal Fire Department, recalls tough search and rescue operations in Hiroshima Prefecture in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun in Osaka's Nishi Ward on July 10, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The death toll reached 195 on Thursday as more bodies were found after torrential rains pounded western Japan last week, causing floods and landslides and leaving thousands still in shelters.

The number of casualties announced by the National Police Agency could grow further as more than 60 people are still missing, according to local authorities.

More than 70,000 rescuers continued to search for the missing in the affected areas, including the hardest-hit Hiroshima, Okayama and Ehime prefectures.

About 6,700 people remained in shelters as of 5:30 a.m., according to Fire and Disaster Management Agency. The number has dropped from more than 30,000 evacuated at one point Sunday.

The government has set up a disaster response task force, and said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Ehime Prefecture on Friday after visiting Okayama Prefecture on Wednesday.

"I saw the tremendous scars (left by the rain)," Abe said about his Okayama trip in the task force's meeting, while revealing the government has secured about 71,000 dwellings as temporary housing for people affected by the disaster.

Parts of the region saw as much as four times the average July rainfall during 11 days through Sunday, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. Many locations logged the heaviest rainfall on record for 24-hour, 48-hour and 72 hour periods as a rainy front hovered over Japan and a typhoon neared the archipelago, according to the agency.

The rain has severed transportation in the region, with the transport ministry saying West Japan Railway Co. and other railway operators of 27 train lines suffered damage at more than 100 locations.

As of Thursday morning, most of the operators said they are unable to resume train services within the next few days, with some struggling to gather enough people to check the safety of their tracks and related facilities.

Disaster response team members from Osaka Prefecture take part in a rescue operation in Hiroshima city's Aki Ward on July 8, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Osaka Municipal Fire Department)

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