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Death toll rises to 15 as rescue continues in flooded areas of Kyushu

The death toll from flooding and mudslides caused by torrential
rain on the Japanese island of Kyushu rose to 15 on Friday as rescue
workers battled to save anyone trapped alive in damaged or destroyed
buildings.

The victims included a pregnant woman reportedly found holding
her little boy in a house swept away by floodwater in Asakura,
Fukuoka Prefecture, one of the hardest-hit areas by Wednesday's
downpour.

A flood warning has been issued for Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, while
evacuation orders remained in place in Fukuoka, Oita and Kumamoto
prefectures. At one point, an evacuation order was issued to 49,000
people in Kitakyushu.

Rescue workers continued searching for the missing, with at
least 20 people unaccounted for in Fukuoka and Oita where all the
casualties were found.

Around 2,200 people were taking shelter in Fukuoka and Oita on
Friday. At an elementary school in Asakura, around 180 people,
including many elderly people, took refuge, with some asking for warm
meals and change of clothes.

Around 20 hamlets in mountainous areas of Fukuoka were isolated
as road access was severed. Helicopters were sent to rescue people in
those areas, with the operation expected to take time as the choppers
can carry only so many people.

Rain was forecast to continue through Saturday in these
prefectures and other areas in the southwest, according to the Japan
Meteorological Agency.

The government stepped up its rescue effort by dispatching
12,000 Self-Defense Force members, police officers and firefighters.

The pregnant woman found dead clutching her young son is
believed to have been visiting her parents' home in Asakura. The
house was swept about 10 meters off its foundation and its first
floor totally collapsed. The body of her mother was also found
nearby, and a neighbor said he heard a rescue worker say the boy was
found dead in his mother's arms.

Also in Asakura, the body of Tetsuo Fujimoto, 66, was found
under driftwood; the bodies of Toshihiko Kato, 87, and his wife
Mikiko, 85, were found near a wrecked house; and a 21-year-old man
was found dead near a river.

In the neighboring village of Toho where damage was also
extensive, the body of a man was recovered, according to the village.

In Oita's Hita, Taketo Yamamoto, a 43-year-old firefighter, was
found dead after being swept away by a mudslide. Two other people
were found dead in the city.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko expressed their sympathy to
the governors of the heavily affected prefectures of Fukuoka and Oita
in the wake of the torrential rain, according to the Imperial
Household Agency.

The imperial couple also said they were saddened by the damage
in Kumamoto, especially as it comes at a time when the area is still
trying to recover from the impact of earthquakes in April last year.

The torrential rain and ensuing disaster have also delayed the
announcement of the engagement of Princess Mako, the eldest
granddaughter of the imperial couple, originally scheduled for
Saturday.

To assess the damage, a government survey team headed by
disaster management minister Jun Matsumoto was sent to Fukuoka on
Friday. The government plans to send it to Oita on Sunday.
"I want ministers to show their leadership for restoration and
prevention of further damage," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga
said Friday at a ministerial meeting to tackle the disaster.

Although emergency warnings have been lifted, the weather agency
continued to urge residents to stay vigilant for mudslides due to
ground being loosened by a third straight day of rain Friday.

Rainfalls of over 50 millimeters in an hour were recorded in
Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures early Friday.

Weather conditions remained very unstable in western Japan as
moist air seeped toward a seasonal rain front staying over the
Tsushima Strait between Japan's southwest and South Korea, the
weather agency said.

Traffic remained disrupted in wide areas of Kyushu, with
expressways partially blocked and JR Kyushu, the major railway
operator in the region, partially suspending services on some lines.
Around 2,000 households in Fukuoka and Oita remain without power and
phone and internet service were also cut in some areas.

In Fukuoka, 215 houses are reported to have been destroyed or
damaged, while 81 sections of roads, 17 bridges and 45 stretches of
river were found damaged. In Oita, 158 buildings, 145 road parts and
27 river sections were damaged.
The number of evacuees totaled 1,585 in Fukuoka and 615 in Oita.
(July 7)


Houses are flooded or collapsing in the city of Asakura as seen in this photo taken July 7, 2017, from a drone, following heavy rain in southwestern Japan. The rain has left several dead or missing. (Kyodo)