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Japan Flooding Death Toll Rises to 200 While More Than 7,000 Remain in Shelters
Japan is reeling after the worst flooding in 37 years crippled southwestern regions of the country last week, killing 200 people.
More than 7,000 people remained in evacuation shelters Thursday and many more were struggling with basic needs as crews continued to search for dozens still missing after flooding inundated entire towns.
The disastrously heavy rainfall caused damage over a widespread area, with most of the deaths in and around Hiroshima. Power and water outages were common, and damage to roads and railway tracks disrupted deliveries of food and relief supplies.
With a lack of electricity and clean water, survivors face numerous health risks, especially as temperatures in affected areas begin to rise into the 90s this week. Temperatures typically average in the upper 80s this time of year in the area.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited an evacuation center in Kurashiki in Okayama prefecture Wednesday, where more than 40 of the 200 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.
In areas where search-and-rescue operations had ended, construction workers and residents worked in neighborhoods to clear mud and debris and restore vehicle access to the outside and get supplies and food.
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 serviceman. “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.
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.
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.
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.
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