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At least 19 people missing when mudslide hits houses west of Tokyo


A powerful mudslide with a flood of black water and debris fell into rows of houses in a city west of Tokyo after heavy rainfall Saturday, leaving at least 19 people missing, officials said.

Up to 80 houses have been completely buried in Atami, according to an official from the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

The official said more people, possibly 100, could be missing under the mudslides, but warned the details were not immediately clear. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as is often the case in Japanese bureaucracies, stressed that aggressive bailouts were under way to find survivors.

This photo shows buildings damaged by a mudslide on Saturday, July 3, 2021, in the Izusan neighborhood of Atami, west of Tokyo, following heavy rainfall in the area.  The mudslide, with a flood of black water and debris, crashed into rows of houses in the city after heavy rainfall on Saturday, leaving several people missing, officials said.  (Kyodo news via AP)

This photo shows buildings damaged by a mudslide on Saturday, July 3, 2021, in the Izusan neighborhood of Atami, west of Tokyo, following heavy rains in the area. The mudslide, with a flood of black water and debris, crashed into rows of houses in the city after heavy rainfall on Saturday, leaving several people missing, officials said. (Kyodo news via AP)

Homes to be damaged by mudslide after heavy rain in the Izusan district of Atami, west of Tokyo, Saturday July 3, 2021 Several people were missing on Saturday, officials said.  (Naoya Osato / Kyodo News via AP)

Homes to be damaged by mudslide after heavy rain in the Izusan district of Atami, west of Tokyo, Saturday July 3, 2021 Several people were missing on Saturday, officials said. (Naoya Osato / Kyodo News via AP)

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Public broadcaster NHK previously put the number of missing people at 20, but Shizuoka Prefecture spokesman Takamichi Sugiyama said the prefecture confirmed at least 19, despite saying the number could rise.

Torrential rains have rocked parts of Japan since the beginning of this week. Experts said the dirt had been loosened, increasing the risk of landslides in a land full of valleys and mountains.

The landslides seemed to have slammed several times, about as fast as a car. The footage showed a mighty black mudslide sliding down a mountain, knocking over and smashing houses, and sweeping away cars on their way. Helpless neighbors watched in horror, some recording with their cell phones.

NHK TV recordings showed that part of a bridge had collapsed.

Shizuoka Governor Heita Kawakatsu told reporters the Coast Guard discovered two people who were washed into the sea by a mudslide. Their hearts have stopped, but their death has not yet been officially declared, he said. Further details about her identity have not been released.

“I offer my deepest condolences to all who have suffered,” he said, adding that every effort is being made to save lives.

Kawakatsu and other officials said it had rained heavily in the area all morning. Self-defense forces have teamed up with the fire brigade and police for the rescue operation, officials from the national government have also arrived, it said.

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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga convened an emergency meeting of his cabinet and instructed the task force to press ahead with the rescue operations while protecting itself from further disasters of this kind.

Evacuation warnings have been issued for a large area, including the so-called “Level 5”, the highest possible alert level, which affects more than 35,000 people.

Atami is a picturesque seaside resort in Shizuoka Prefecture, about 100 kilometers southwest of Tokyo. The Izusan area hit by the mudslide includes hot springs, residential areas, shopping streets and a famous shrine.

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