Japan Is Enduring Its Worst Weather Disaster In Decades

At least 155 people have been killed after torrential rain unleashed floods and landslides in the country’s west last week,

While all eyes have been on the “miracle” cave rescue mission in Thailand, Japan has endured its worst weather disaster in 36 years.

At least 155 people have been killed after torrential rain unleashed floods and landslides in the country’s west last week, forcing several million from their homes.

“It was close. If we had been five minutes later, we would not have made it,” one survivor, Yusuke Suwa, told Reuters, after fleeing by car with his wife early on Saturday. An evacuation order had arrived after midnight.

A man surveys a disaster stricken area in Saka Town, Hiroshima Prefecture. Image: AAP
“It was dark and we could not see clearly what was happening, although we knew water was running outside. We did not realise it was becoming such a big deal.”

The city of Kurashiki, between two rivers in the flood-prone Mabi district, was among the hardest hit, after a levee crumbled under the force of raging floodwaters.

Water still covered much of the city, despite ebbing floods that opened the route to a hospital where nearly 100 patients were left stranded on Sunday.

Rescuers are now facing a race against time as they search for survivors, with more than 60 people still unaccounted for, government officials said on Tuesday.

Rescuers search for missing people at a mudslide site following days of heavy rain in Kumano town, in the Hiroshima prefecture. Image: AAP

A scorching forecast is expected to push temperatures above 30 degrees in some of the hardest-hit areas, like Kurashiki, sparking fears of heatstroke in those areas cut off from power or water.

While power has been restored to all but 35,000 homes, more than 200,000 people remain without water -- like Yumeko Matsui.

“We cannot take baths, the toilet doesn’t work and our food stockpile is running low,” Matsui, who lives in the city of Mihara, told AP.

“Bottled water and bottled tea are all gone from convenience stores and other shops.”

“There have been requests for setting up air conditioners due to rising temperatures above 30 degrees, and at the same time we need to restore lifelines,” Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

The government has set aside $631m (70 billion yen), with approximately $3.15b in reserve, to fund the massive recovery effort, Taro said, adding an extra budget would be considered in needed.

Residents wait for water from a temporary tank truck in Kure City. Image: AAP

According to Reuters, the country is prone to such disasters, with its dense population meaning much of its usable land is built on mountainous country, including floodplains. As such, weather warnings are issued early.

But some residents, such as those in Mabi, shrugged off the warnings this time. 

“We had evacuation orders before and nothing happening, so I just thought this was going to be the same,” Kenji Ishii, 57, told Reuters.

People throw away damaged household effects at a garbage collection in Soja City, Okayama Prefecture. Image: AAP

Ishii decided to stay at home with his wife and son. But it wasn’t long before a military boat had to rescue them from their second floor. 

While evacuation orders have been scaled back, almost two million people are still facing orders or advice to keep away from their homes.

As a massive recovery effort continues, a new order went out on Tuesday in a part of Hiroshima after a river blocked by debris overflowed its banks.

With Reuters (Kiyoshi Takenaka, Issei Kato)