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'Unprecedented' rain pounds southwest Japan, leaves 2 dead

A residential area photographed from a Kyodo News helicopter is seen flooded on Aug. 28, 2019, in Takeo, Saga Prefecture, following torrential rains that hit Fukuoka, Saga and Nagasaki prefectures in the northern Kyushu region. (Kyodo)
The lobby of JR Saga Station is flooded by heavy rain as seen on Aug. 28, 2019. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Torrential rain hit southwestern Japan on Wednesday, prompting local and prefectural governments to instruct hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate as rivers overflowed and landslides struck in what the weather agency called an "unprecedented downpour" that left at least two people dead.

A man was confirmed dead after being found in a minicar that had been swept away by floodwaters on a road in the city of Takeo, Saga Prefecture, while another man died after being helped out of his light vehicle by a neighbor but was then washed away during flooding in Yame in the neighboring prefecture of Fukuoka, police said.

A woman remains unconscious after her light vehicle plunged into a flooded ditch in the city of Saga, while another woman in her 50s from Takeo is missing after leaving her house for work, according to the police.

"The whole area was under the water, and we couldn't even see the roofs of vehicles," said a 59-year-old man who was evacuated with his family to a temple in Takeo.

In Saga, a number of vehicles were also seen submerged and JR Saga Station was flooded.

"It usually takes about five minutes to come to the station from my home, but (today) it took me an hour as it was difficult to walk in water up to my knees," said 56-year-old Takaaki Matsuo.

Fukuoka, Saga and Nagasaki prefectures issued evacuation instructions to around 870,000 residents at one point after the Japan Meteorological Agency issued its maximum level-5 warning for floods and landslides in the northern Kyushu region, with precipitation levels approaching their highest levels in decades.

The maximum level-5 warning was lifted later in the day but the agency said it might be reissued depending on weather conditions.

As landslides occurred and both the Ushizu River in the cities of Ogi and Taku and the Matsuura River in Imari burst their banks, Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi requested that the Self-Defense Forces be dispatched to provide disaster relief.

The Cabinet Office said the Disaster Relief Act has been applied to all municipalities in Saga Prefecture, which allows the national and prefectural governments to provide financial assistance for local evacuation centers and other emergency measures.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government has already sent an aid team to Saga Prefecture and ordered at a Cabinet meeting to supply necessary goods regardless of formal requests.

Kyushu Railway Co. canceled some services, mainly in the three prefectures severely affected.

With training thunderstorms over northern Kyushu from the early morning causing repeated rainfall in the same region, 110 millimeters of rain was recorded in the city of Saga and 109.5 mm in Shiroishi, Saga Prefecture, in a one-hour period, according to the agency.

For the 24 hours through 6 p.m. Thursday, the agency forecast up to 150 mm of rain in the northern Kyushu and Tokai regions, 120 mm in the Chugoku and Hokuriku regions and 100 mm in the Kanto-Koshin region, which includes Tokyo, and the Kinki region that includes Osaka.

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