More heavy rain was expected Sunday as rescuers in Japan searched for survivors in floods in southwest of the country that have left at least 18 people dead.
Hundreds of others have been displaced in freak rains that have also triggered landslides, public broadcaster NHK reported on Sunday.
About 1,900 policemen and soldiers, using heavy machinery, braved the rain and grappled with debris of driftwood and mud that have cut off roads and clogged flooded homes.
Authorities warned of more heavy rains later in the evening and potential landslides. The downpour has been caused by a low pressure over the Pacific that has sent warm, moist air into Japan’s seasonal rainy front.
In Fukuoka and neighboring Oita, the hardest hit areas, 18 people have been killed and 14 have been injured, while roughly 570 have been left in the state of isolation and more than 20 still unaccounted for, NHK said.
“Considering the feelings of those whose families are missing, I want to rescue as soon as possible,” Kiyoharu Kawano of the Ground Self-Defense Force said.
Local residents tackled cleanup efforts with a struggle.
“It’s tough, it’s tough,” said an elderly man, who was pushing a wheelbarrow in the heavy rain, carrying mud out of an old wooden “ramen” noodle restaurant.
The city of Asakura was hit by more than 600 mm (24 inches) of rain since it started pouring on Wednesday, and Hita was pounded by nearly 450 mm of rain during the same period, the meteorological agency said, warning of yielding ground.
The meteorological agency said the rainy front was forecast to bring 120 mm of rain in the northern Kyushu region by Monday noon, and 100 mm of rain in the neighboring Chugoku region, western Japan.
Swathes of Kyushu — the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands — have been left devastated after overflowing rivers and torrential downpours swept away roads, houses and schools this week.
Thousands of people have been evacuated to makeshift shelters in school gyms and public buildings, but many remain stranded, with emergency services battling through thick mud and rain to try to reach them.
More than 500 people were still cut off by Sunday, NHK reported, with collapsed bridges and waterlogged ground on steep hillsides hampering rescue efforts.
The government was doing its “utmost” to recover those missing or stranded, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a rare weekend press conference.
Five people were in critical condition, Suga said, with the government still trying to ascertain if their injuries were a result of the severe weather.
Television footage showed rescue helicopters held up at a makeshift heliport — unable to fly because of the downpours, while people prayed for the safety of their family members.
More than 50 centimeters (20 inches) of rain deluged parts of Kyushu in 12 hours on Wednesday, prompting the Japan Meteorological Agency to warn of possible significant damage.
Rains have continued intermittently since, with up to 22 centimeters recorded in Fukuoka in the past 72-hour period.