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Death toll rises as heavy rains hammer southern Japan

People who are stranded at a flooded hospital

People who are stranded at a flooded hospital are rescued following heavy rain in Kurashiki city in southwestern Japan on Sunday. Photo Credit: AP / Shohei Miyano

HIROSHIMA, Japan — At least 100 people have died or were presumed dead from the heavy rains, floods and mudslides that struck western Japan, the Japanese government said Monday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that 68 people were unaccounted for, many of them in the hardest-hit Hiroshima area.

Suga said 87 people were confirmed dead and 13 others had no vital signs when they were found as of early Monday.

Searches and cleanup efforts were taking place in the southwestern region where several days of heavy rainfall set off flooding and landslides in a widespread area.

“Rescue efforts are a battle with time,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters. “The rescue teams are doing their utmost.”

The Japan Meteorological Agency said three hours of rainfall in one area in Kochi prefecture reached an accumulated 10.4 inches, the highest since such records started in 1976.

The assessment of casualties has been difficult because of the widespread area affected by the rainfall, flooding and landslides. Authorities warned that landslides could strike even after rain subsides as the calamity shaped up to be potentially the worst in decades.

In Hiroshima prefecture, water streamed through a residential area, strewn with fallen telephone poles, uprooted trees and mud. Some homes were smashed. A woman who was reported as missing after getting trapped in her car was found but was pronounced dead, Kyodo News service reported.

In another area in Hiroshima, 12 people went missing when a residential area got sucked into a landslide, and one body was later found.

Kochi prefecture, on Shikoku, issued landslide warnings almost over the entire island. Public broadcaster NHK TV showed overturned cars on roads covered with mud. A convenience store worker, who had fled to a nearby rooftop, said water had reached as high as his head.

The Japanese government set up an emergency office, designed for crises such as major earthquakes. Military paddle boats were also being used to take people to dry land.

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