Death toll climbs to 54 as heavy rain hammers southern Japan

Flooding and landslides have killed at least 76 people and left dozens missing.

At 5:50 a.m. on July 8, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued an "emergency warning against heavy rain" to Kochi and Ehime prefectures, meaning that serious damage could result from a deluge that might occur only once in decades.

The death toll from unprecedented rainfall in Japan has risen to at least 76, as widespread flooding forces millions from their homes.

Authorities have warned that landslides could strike even if the rainfall diminishes.

Mazda Motor Corp said it will continue to suspend operations at its two factories in Hiroshima and Yamaguchi prefectures until Tuesday to ensure the safety of employees amid traffic disruptions, as well as due to uncertainty over procurement of auto parts.

"Rescues, saving lives and evacuations are a race against time", Abe said as he met with a government crisis cell set up to respond to the disaster.

Landslide warnings are in place in over a quarter of Japan's prefectures.

TV footage showed crews in military trucks delivering emergency water supplies to areas where water infrastructure was down, while troops in boats helped people and pets safely reach dry land.

The rain has completely blanketed some villages, forcing desperate residents to take shelter on their rooftops with flood water swirling below as they wait for rescue.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said the South African Embassy in Japan had not reported any South African victims and remained in close contact with the Japanese authorities.

"The situation is extremely unsafe", wrote a Twitter user in Kochi, a city on the smallest main island of Shikoku, where the rain has been especially intense.

A man and his wife carrying their belongings walk past a devastated street during floods in Saka, Hiroshima prefecture.

In Ehime prefecture, a woman was found dead on the second floor of a home buried by a landslide, Kyodo said.

Several major manufacturers, including carmakers Daihatsu and Mitsubishi, suspended operations at plants in the affected areas.

A broken embankment is seen in front in flooded Kurashiki city, Okayama prefecture, southwestern Japan.

According to the transport ministry, 17 railroad operators were suspending services on 56 routes in western Japan or elsewhere.

In the town of Saka, also in Hiroshima prefecture, Eiichi Tsuiki evacuated to the top floor of his house as rising waters washed away cars outside.

Japan Ground Self-Defense Force members evacuate residents from a flooded area caused by heavy rains.

"This is a record high rainfall which we never experienced", Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Saturday morning, The New York Times reports.

  • Rogelio Becker