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While the world fixates on the rescue of the Thai football boys from a flooded cave, Japan was in disaster management and recovery mode on Monday after catastrophic downpours killed more than 100 people.
While the weather had cleared after a weekend of torrential rain, Japan was still grappling with rescue operations and disaster relief operations, largely in the west of the country.
A total of 109 people had been confirmed dead by midday on Monday, according to Kyodo News. Broadcaster NHK reported that more than 90 still missing. On Sunday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said efforts to locate the stranded – many on roofs of buildings surrounded by floodwater – had turned into a “race against time.”
About 73,000 rescue workers, police and personnel from the country’s Self Defense Force had reportedly been mobilized. Nationwide, some four million people have been advised, though not ordered, to evacuate their homes and about 30,000 are in temporary evacuation centers, news agencies reported.
TV footage showed rescue workers digging into wrecked houses, dislocated by landslides; camouflaged SDF members putting elderly in boats and towing them, on foot, through chest-high brown floodwater; bridges washed away; cars up to their axles in water on roads that looked like mudslides; other roads closed off by flood debris and entire villages under water, with only the roofs and the tops of traffic lights showing above the high water mark.
The worst hit area was Hiroshima prefecture. “We are carrying out rescue operations around the clock,” Yoshihide Fujitani, a disaster management official in the prefecture, told AFP. “We are also looking after evacuees and restoring lifeline infrastructure like water and gas.”
In western Okayama prefecture, major rescue operations took place on Sunday to evacuate several hundred people including children and the elderly from a hospital. They became trapped when a nearby river burst its banks and flooded the area. Dramatic footage showed patients being evacuated by both boat and helicopter.
Kyodo reported that the operations at the hospital were successfully concluded on Monday, but that while the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism had mobilized pumping trucks to drain the area, it was likely to take about two weeks to complete it.
With much of the affected area lacking fresh water and electricity and with temperatures and humidity soaring, the dangers of dehydration and water-born infections pose new risks.
A range of companies including Mazda Motor Corp, Daihatsu Motor Co and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd halted work at factories as power and water supplies in wide parts of Hiroshima and Okayama remained cut off, according to Bloomberg. Kyodo reported that 13 railroad operators were suspending services on 37 routes in western Japan and elsewhere on Monday.
The monsoon rains of recent days have been described as “historic” in terms of their their weight and devastation. Wire services reported the death toll to be the highest in a Japanese weather-related disaster since two typhoons struck in August and September 2011, killing nearly 100 people. And casualties are higher than in 2014, when more than 70 people died in landslides caused by torrential rain in Hiroshima.