2 dead, 20 missing in massive mudslide in central Japan

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A traffic display indicates the closure of a national highway following a massive mudslide in Atami city, Shizuoka prefecture, Japan, July 3, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

Two people were dead and about 20 others remained missing on Saturday following a massive mudslide triggered by torrential rain in central Japan, local authorities said.

The disaster occurred at about 10:30 a.m. local time in Atami city in Shizuoka prefecture southwest of Tokyo, as heavy rainfall swept areas along the Pacific coast in central and eastern Japan.

The authorities said the mudslide has reached the nearby coast. The two with no vital signs were discovered by the coast guard at a port, the prefectural government said.

Around 21,000 households in Atami, a city known for hot spa resorts, were ordered to ensure their safety immediately as the local government issued the highest level of evacuation alert. Up to 300 households were affected by the mudslide, according to local officials.

Rescue workers are conducting a search operation in the mudslide-stricken area for victims. They have received about 10 calls from people who are trapped in their houses.

The Shizuoka prefectural government has called for help from the Self-Defense Forces in disaster relief, and the Ground Self-Defense Force dispatched around 30 personnel to the area in response to the request.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has held talks with disaster minister Yasufumi Tanahashi over the mudslide and other calamities associated with the rain.

Suga called on an emergency meeting with members of his cabinet in the evening, ordering them to work with local authorities to investigate the scale of the damage and calling on the public to be ready to evacuate when necessary and take action to protect themselves.

The government has set up a task force at the prime minister's office to collect information.

The Japan Meteorological Agency urged maximum alert and called on people to be vigilant over mudslides, flooding and swollen rivers.

In the 72-hour period through 11:00 a.m. Saturday local time, 790 mm rainfall was logged in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, and over 550 mm rain was recorded in Gotemba, Shizuoka Prefecture, the agency said.

Due to rising rivers in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, the local government advised residents to ensure their safety immediately, issuing the highest level of evacuation alert under the revised basic counter disaster law for the first time in the country.

Prefectural governments along the way from Ibaraki in the east to Kyoto in the west have issued warnings over sediment-related disasters.

Torrential rain also disrupted the public transport system. Shinkansen bullet trains were temporarily halted in sections between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka, according to operator Central Japan Railway Co.

The seasonal rain front is expected to move toward the Sea of Japan coast over the weekend.

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