Landslides kill at least 36 in Japanese city of Hiroshima

Debris rolled off mountain slopes towards town as more one month’s rain fell in 24 hours

Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 13:59

At least 36 people, including children, were killed in Japan today, when landslides triggered by torrential rain hit into the outskirts of the western city of Hiroshima.

Rain-sodden slopes collapsed in torrents of mud, rock and debris on the outskirts of the city and left seven missing, police said.

Public broadcaster NHK showed rescue workers suspended by ropes from police helicopters pulling victims from the rubble. Others climbed into windows as they searched for survivors in crushed homes.

Hillsides caved in or were swept down into residential areas in at least five valleys in the suburbs of the western Japanese city after heavy rains left slopes unstable

Among those dug out of the debris were two brothers, aged eleven and two, whose house was struck as they slept.

“The rain was just pouring down and the street in front of my house turned into a river,” a man in his 70s told national television NHK.

About 240 mm of rain fell in the area in the 24 hours up to this morning, a record-breaking level equivalent to a month’s worth of rain in a usual August, the Meteorological Agency said. Roughly half of that rain fell in one hour.

The force of the landslide crumbled roads, while streams of mud tore through neighbourhoods, turning houses into piles of twisted wreckage.

“A few people were washed away and it is hard to know exactly how many are unaccounted for,” said local government official Nakatoshi Okamoto, noting that conditions in the disaster area were hindering rescuers.

Authorities issued warnings that additional rain could trigger more landslides and flooding.

The land collapsed so quickly that evacuation advisories came an hour after the first mudslide, officials acknowledged.

“It’s so regrettable,” Kyodo News service quoted Hiroshima mayor Kazumi Matsui as saying. “We’ll find out what went wrong and take the necessary measures.”

Cities in land-scarce Japan often expand into mountainous areas, leaving such development vulnerable to landslides.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe cut short his summer vacation to head back to Tokyo. He said he would dispatch several hundred military personnel to help with rescue efforts.

Landslides killed 31 people in Hiroshima in 1999, including six in the same area hit this time.