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Multiple victims found in Fukushima homes after Typhoon Hagibis floodwaters recede

Muddy streets in the Minamimachiura district of Motomiya, Fukushima Prefecture, are seen on Oct. 14, 2019, after floodwaters were removed from the area. (Mainichi/Rikka Teramachi)

MOTOMIYA, Fukushima -- The corpses of people caught in flooding that submerged the first floor of many homes in residential districts of this city in northeastern Japan are being found continuously, following water removal efforts that continued into the morning of Oct. 14.

The Abukuma River overflowed due to the huge amount of rain dumped on the area by Typhoon Hagibis, which also led to the collapse of an embankment on the tributary Adatara River. It appears that many people living in the lowlands where the two rivers meet were affected by the disaster.

Even after the water was finally driven out of the city, its streets were blanketed in a stubborn layer of mud that is slippery to walk on, trees and signage were bent and twisted out of shape, and water spewed out of manholes.

A man, 52, stood outside a two-story home in the city's Minamimachiura district, situated around 150 meters south of the Adatara River, at about 7 a.m. on Oct. 14. He came all the way from his home in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, to check on his mother, who lives alone. "Her name isn't registered at the evacuation center," he said with concern. He drove up to find her after seeing the extent of damage to Fukushima Prefecture on TV.

A community center, hospital and other buildings are seen submerged by floodwaters in the Minamimachiura district of Motomiya, Fukushima Prefecture, on Oct. 13, 2019. (Mainichi/Rikka Teramachi)

A member of staff from a day care center arrived with the keys to the property after 8 a.m. Once inside, they found a woman in her 70s on the first floor.

According to one neighbor, the woman had mobility issues. Another, Junko Takahashi, 69, who evacuated on the night of Oct. 12, said that when she realized the woman wasn't at the evacuation center, she asked employees from the local government to have her rescued. "The water came all at once. There wasn't time to check on others nearby when getting out of the situation," she said regretfully.

Police were posted at a single story house in the Tatenokoshi district around 150 meters north of the Adatara River, at around 1 p.m. on Oct. 14. The body of a man in his 40s was reportedly found in the home that day.

A park, foreground, and supermarket are seen swallowed up by floodwaters in Motomiya, Fukushima Prefecture, on Oct. 13, 2019. (Mainichi/Rikka Teramachi)

A man, 47, who runs a dental clinic opposite the house, said the deceased was a dentist who worked at the business, and that he had even come to work on Oct. 12. After orders to evacuate were issued on the same day at about 10:25 p.m., he called to tell him to leave the area at around 3 a.m. the following day. The man reportedly replied that the water was coming up to his ankles, and that his possessions were being washed away, but after that he didn't get in touch again.

"If there are orders to evacuate, it's far better to escape than dawdle around. Young or old, it's no different," he said, shaking with anger.

A barber next door, 48, was on the second floor of his two-story home, which is the site of his residence and his business. The first floor flooded, and he said he could hear windows breaking and the sound of furniture being pushed up to the ceiling.

Looking back on the events of that night, he said, "I thought, the rain is quiet, so I had a look outside, and there was this frightening amount of water pouring into the town and staying there. I was scared, it seemed like it would reach the second floor by the dawn of the 13th. Thankfully in the end a rescue boat came and saved me."

(Japanese original by Rikka Teramachi, Fukushima Bureau)

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