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99 killed in landslides triggered by torrential rain, worst toll in 30 years

Self-Defense Force personnel continue a search for missing people near houses hit by a landslide in the city of Kure in Hiroshima Prefecture on July 17, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- As many as 99 people were killed and two remained missing following 863 landslides in 31 prefectures triggered by the recent torrential rains that devastated western Japan, a government tally found.

The death toll is the worst for a set of landslides in the 30-year Heisei era, surpassing the previous high of 77 recorded in a series of massive landslides in Hiroshima Prefecture in August 2014.

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Hiroshima Prefecture suffered the largest share of the damage across the nation, with 68 deaths in 248 landslides. Other prefectures that suffered major loss of life included Ehime, where 17 people died in 63 landslides; Yamaguchi with three deaths in 60 slips; and Okayama with three casualties in 37 occurrences.

It is the first time in over three decades for more than 100 people to been killed or left missing in landslides, after flooding and landslides in the southern prefecture of Nagasaki 36 years ago left more than 220 people killed or missing.

As many as 531,251 locations throughout Japan were designated by prefectural governments as landslide disaster alert areas as of the end of March. The prefectures are legally required to prepare hazard maps for such locations. For especially high-risk areas, buildings near slopes must be strengthened when they are first constructed or modified.

As of 7 p.m. on July 17, the number of confirmed deaths from the latest downpours reached 217 in 14 prefectures, while 15 people in four prefectures remained missing, according to a Mainichi Shimbun tally.

Over the past few days, areas affected by the record torrential rains have been hit by extreme heat, with the mercury rising to 35.7 degrees Celsius at one point in the city of Kurashiki in Okayama Prefecture, where dozens were killed in flooding.

(Japanese original by Tetsuo Hatakeyama, Osaka Science & Environment News Department, and Hidetoo Okazaki, Osaka City News Department)

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