Rescue workers battled through mud for a second day in search of dozens of people still missing after torrential rain triggered landslides in the western Japanese city of Hiroshima that killed 39 people, national broadcaster NHK said.
About 630 self-defense forces personnel have been sent to the area, along with about 90 vehicles and four aircraft, the defense ministry said. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been shuttling between his summer home and Tokyo to coordinate a response to the disaster, while Russian President Vladimir Putin today conveyed his condolences to Abe.
A record 217.5 millimeters (about 8.5 inches) of rain fell in parts of Hiroshima over three hours yesterday morning, the meteorological agency said. About 2,500 military, police and fire personnel are searching for victims, NHK reported.
“Unfortunately there are many people still missing,” Abe told officials in a meeting at his official residence today. “I want the government to work together to do all in its power to rescue them as soon as possible.”
Disaster management minister Keiji Furuya went yesterday to the city that lies about 800 kilometers (497 miles) west of Tokyo. At least one rescue worker was among the dead, the Sankei newspaper reported, citing the Hiroshima fire department.
Rain may continue to fall in the area over the next two days, the meteorological agency said, warning residents to be alert for further landslides and swollen rivers.
The news from Hiroshima led Abe to cut short a game of golf yesterday in Yamanashi Prefecture, where he has a summer home, with Trade Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and former Prime minister Yoshiro Mori, the Jiji news agency reported. Abe returned to Yamanashi last night, then circled back to Tokyo today, Kyodo news reported.
In January 2001, Mori came under pressure to resign as premier when he finished a round of golf after being told a Japanese fishing boat carrying 13 high school students had been struck off Hawaii by a U.S. submarine. He stepped down in April that year.
Banri Kaieda, leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, criticized Abe for not abandoning his golf game more quickly, in comments made yesterday and published on the party’s website.
“Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must have known how tense and serious the situation was,” Kaieda said. “He’s always saying he will protect the lives of the people of Japan, so he should take actions to do that.”