'Never Seen Anything Like This': 176 Dead in Japan Floods, Mudslides

July 11, 2018

Crews continue to search for dozens of missing individuals in southwestern Japan after days of flooding inundated entire towns, killing 176 people.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited an evacuation center in the city of Kurashiki in Okayama prefecture, where more than 40 of the 176 victims died. He ducked in front of an elderly woman sitting on the floor and pledged to her that his government will do its utmost to bring back her ordinary life as soon as possible. About 200 residents were taking refuge at the shelter he visited.

Tens of thousands of rescue and recovery workers and volunteers were searching for people still missing.

Surveying the damage to the restaurant he has owned for nearly four decades, Seiji Toda said he was shocked to see the state the business was in, covered in several feet of mud with the windows blown out.

“I can’t go back if I wanted to,” said Akira Tanimoto, a 66-year-old retired Self-Defense servicemen. “Electricity is out, water is cut off and there is no information there.”

"I had never seen anything like this," he said on TBS television, standing outside his restaurant in Hiroshima city while wearing a helmet. He says it would be impossible to clean up the mess by hand.

(MORE: Former Thai Navy SEAL Dies Taking Supplies to Soccer Team Trapped in Flooded Cave)

Right next to his restaurant were heaps of broken trees and other debris. Several cars were still half buried in the mud.

The assessment of casualties has been difficult because of the widespread area affected by the rainfall, flooding and landslides since late last week. Authorities warned that landslides could strike even after rain subsides as the calamity shaped up to be potentially the worst in decades.

Some homes were smashed. Others were tilting precariously. Rivers overflowed, turning towns into lakes, leaving dozens of people stranded on rooftops. Military paddle boats and helicopters have brought people to the ground. Thousands of homes were without clean water and electricity in Hiroshima and other hard-hit areas, where many people lined up for water tanks under the scorching sun, with temperatures rising as high as 93 Fahrenheit.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe canceled his planned July 11-18 trip to Europe and the Middle East to oversee the emergency response to deadly heavy rains. Abe earlier Monday said the government has expended the search and rescue effort, dispatching 73,000 troops and emergency workers. "The rescue teams are doing their utmost."

In large parts of Hiroshima, water streamed through a residential area, strewn with fallen telephone poles, uprooted trees and mud over the weekend.

Toda, the restaurant owner, said he took precautions because of his fresh memory of flooding four years ago that killed more than 70 in Hiroshima. Others were caught off guard.

"It gives me a chill thinking what could have happened," said Eiko Yamane on Sunday as she recalled realizing how suddenly water was seeping the tires of the car she was driving. She was able to escape.

In another hard-hit city, Kurashiki, in neighboring Okayama prefecture, a man lost his mother in a flooded house the day after speaking on the phone. "My mother lived alone in that house over there and we spoke on the phone the night before," he told TBS television, refusing to show his face. "I was hoping she managed to have escaped."

Parts of southwestern Japan had as much as 3 inches per hour of rain, the highest in decades, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. By Monday, rain warnings have been lifted.

In the Uwajima town in Ehime prefecture, an overflowing river washed debris down to the coast, turning seawater partially muddy. A 64-year-old man and a 9-year-old boy were found dead underneath a mudslide.


The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.