On Monday, two days after landslides ripped through a seaside city, more than a thousand Japanese rescuers worked among fallen buildings and submerged roadways, battling time and bad weather to find around 80 people thought missing.
At least three people were killed in Atami when heavy rain over the weekend – more than a typical July’s worth in some parts – triggered a series of landslides, driving rivers of mud and debris through streets.
The landslides serve as a reminder of natural calamities such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis – that haunt Japan, where the capital Tokyo is to host the summer Olympics beginning this month.
“My mother is still missing,” one man told NHK public television. “I never imagined something like this could happen here.”
One 75-year-old evacuee said the house across from his had been swept away and the couple that lived there was unaccounted for.
“This is hell,” he said.
By Monday, the number of rescuers at the site had risen to 1,500, officials said, and could increase.
“We want to rescue as many victims … buried in the rubble as soon as possible,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters, adding that police, firefighters and members of the military were doing all they could to aid the search.
113 people are believed to be missing in Atami, a city of almost 36,000 people located 90 kilometres (60 miles) south-west of Tokyo, according to Reuters spokeswoman Hiroki Onuma, who also confirmed the third fatality. According to Japanese media, the victim was a lady.
However, by midday, the number of missing had decreased to approximately 80, according to Kyodo.
“We’re in touch with various groups and pushing forward with the searches,” Onuma said.
Over the weekend some 20 people were said to be unaccounted for, but the number rose sharply on Monday as officials began working from residential registers rather than phone calls from people unable to reach family and friends, he said.
Landslides blasted through Atami, a hot springs resort built on a steep slope that goes down to a bay, on Saturday morning, affecting around 130 structures.
According to local media, the water, mud, and debris are believed to have poured along a river for roughly 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) to the sea.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato urged locals to be cautious, saying that the wet ground had deteriorated and that even moderate rain might be harmful.
Though Onuma stated that rain had ceased in Atami for the time being, more is expected, heightening the likelihood of more landslides.
“The situation is unpredictable,” he said.
Stocks in some engineering firms rose on Monday.
Raito Kogyo Co Ltd (1926.T), an expert in slope and foundation improvement, rose 1.5%, while CE Management Integrated Laboratory Co Ltd (6171.T), which offers geological survey and disaster prevention systems, gained 3.7%.