Deadly Japan mudslide: 1,000 involved in rescue operation in resort town

More than 1,000 soldiers, firefighters and police on Sunday waded through a giant mudslide that ripped through a Japanese resort town southwest of Tokyo a day earlier, killing at least two people and leaving about 20 missing as it swept away houses and cars.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters 19 people had been rescued, and 130 homes and other buildings were damaged in Atami.

Two people were dead but more were feared missing, he said, speaking after an emergency Cabinet meeting. Earlier, disaster officials said about 20 were unaccounted for, but warned the number may rise. Shizuoka prefecture officials said three people had been injured.

“The area is still having heavy rainfall, but arduous rescue efforts will continue,” Suga said, warning residents to watch out for more landslides. “Please act as quickly as you can to stay safe.”

Rescuers conduct a search operation at the site of a mudslide at Izusan in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, Sunday, July 4, 2021. More than 1,000 soldiers, firefighters and police on Sunday waded through a giant mudslide that ripped through the resort town as it swept away houses and cars. (Kyodo News via AP)

Rescuers conduct a search operation at the site of a mudslide at Izusan in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, Sunday, July 4, 2021. More than 1,000 soldiers, firefighters and police on Sunday waded through a giant mudslide that ripped through the resort town as it swept away houses and cars. (Kyodo News via AP)

Rescuers conduct a search operation at the site of a mudslide at Izusan in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, Sunday, July 4, 2021. More than 1,000 soldiers, firefighters and police on Sunday waded through a giant mudslide that ripped through the resort town as it swept away houses and cars. (Kyodo News via AP)

Rescuers conduct a search operation at the site of a mudslide at Izusan in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, Sunday, July 4, 2021. More than 1,000 soldiers, firefighters and police on Sunday waded through a giant mudslide that ripped through the resort town as it swept away houses and cars. (Kyodo News via AP)

AT LEAST 19 MISSING AS MUDSLIDE WEST OF TOKYO HITS HOUSES

Troops, firefighters and other rescue workers, backed by three coast guard ships, were working to clear the mud from the streets of Atami and reach those believed to be trapped or carried away. The rescue workers were barely visible in the rainfall and thick fog except for the their hard hats. Six military drones were being flown to help in the search.

Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu told a news conference Sunday that land development upstream from the affected area may have played a role in the disaster. Citing preliminary drone examination, Kawakatsu said massive amounts of soil heaped up in the area were all washed down, although it was not immediately known whether the development was the direct cause.

Kawakatsu said he will investigate the land development. Media reports said a planned housing development had been abandoned after its operator had a financial problem.

The mudslide early Saturday crashed down a mountainside into rows of houses following heavy rains that began several days ago. Bystanders, their gasps of horror audible, caught the scene on cell phone video.

Witnesses said they heard a giant roar and then watched helplessly as homes were swallowed up by the muddy waves.

Like many others, Mariko Hattori, an interpreter who lives a short walk away from where the tsunami-like torrent of mud struck, at first didn’t know what happened.

“The first things I noticed were lots of emergency vehicles. I didn’t know what happened at first,” she said. “Then I was frightened when I saw the footage.”

Houses are damaged by a mudslide following heavy rains at the Izusan district in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, west of Tokyo, Sunday, July 4, 2021. The mudslide carrying a deluge of black water and debris crashed into rows of houses in the town following heavy rains on Saturday, leaving multiple people missing, officials said. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Houses are damaged by a mudslide following heavy rains at the Izusan district in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, west of Tokyo, Sunday, July 4, 2021. The mudslide carrying a deluge of black water and debris crashed into rows of houses in the town following heavy rains on Saturday, leaving multiple people missing, officials said. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

This aerial photo shows the site of a mudslide at Izusan in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, Sunday, July 4, 2021. More than 1,000 soldiers, firefighters and police on Sunday waded through a giant mudslide that ripped through the resort town as it swept away houses and cars. (Kyodo News via AP)

This aerial photo shows the site of a mudslide at Izusan in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, Sunday, July 4, 2021. More than 1,000 soldiers, firefighters and police on Sunday waded through a giant mudslide that ripped through the resort town as it swept away houses and cars. (Kyodo News via AP)

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The area of Atami where the mudslide struck, Izusan, is a seaside resort about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Tokyo. It’s known for hot springs, a shrine and shopping streets.

At an evacuation center, Yuka Komatsu, 47, told the Asahi newspaper she narrowly escaped the mudslide after seeing a nearby apartment building being hit. Frightened, she gabbed her mother and jumped into her car. In the rearview mirror, she saw muddy water swelling and coming from behind as it washed down broken trees and rocks.

“I wonder what happened to our house,” she said.

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