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First Came the Rain. Then, a Mudslide 'as Fast as a Car'

At least 19 are missing in Atami, Japan
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 3, 2021 5:30 AM CDT

(Newser) – A powerful mudslide carrying a deluge of black water and debris crashed into rows of houses in a town west of Tokyo following heavy rains on Saturday, leaving at least 19 people missing, officials said. Dozens of homes may have been buried in Atami, a town known for hot springs, said Shizuoka prefecture spokesman Takamichi Sugiyama, per the AP. Public broadcaster NHK gave the number of missing people at 20, but Sugiyama said the prefecture confirmed at least 19, although he said the number may grow. Torrential rains have slammed parts of Japan, starting earlier this week. Experts said dirt had been loosened, increasing landslide risks in a country filled with valleys and mountains. Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu told reporters the Coast Guard had discovered two people who'd been washed into the sea by the mudslide. Their hearts had stopped, but their deaths were not yet officially declared, he said.

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"I offer my deepest condolences to everyone who has suffered," he said, adding that utmost efforts will be made to rescue lives. Both Kawakatsu and Sugiyama said it had been raining hard in the area all morning. Self-defense forces will join firefighters and police in the rescue operation, and a minister from the national government had also arrived, they said. Japanese media reports said Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called an emergency meeting for his Cabinet. Evacuation warnings—including the so-called Level 5, which is the highest possible alert—were issued for a wide area. The landslides appeared to have struck multiple times, about as fast as a car. Footage showed a powerful, black mudslide slither down a mountain, knocking over and crushing houses and sweeping away cars in its path. Helpless neighbors watched in horror, some recording on their phones. NHK TV footage showed a part of a bridge had collapsed.

(Read more Japan stories.)

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