Japan asked thousands of people to evacuate their homes on its southern island of Kyushu, media said on Saturday, following unprecedented torrential rains in which 15 people are feared dead and nine missing.
With the region facing the risk of further floods and landslides, authorities told 92,200 households in the prefectures of Kumamoto and Kagoshima to vacate their homes, the Kyodo news agency said.
“The heavy rainfall is likely to continue until Sunday, and people in the area are required to be on maximum alert,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, adding that as many as 10,000 soldiers would be sent to join the rescue operations.
The flooding of the Kuma River in the region had cut off homes and washed away a bridge, said national broadcaster NHK, which displayed television footage of houses and cars inundated by muddy waters.
NHK said the 15 feared dead included 14 who suffered cardiac arrest at an elderly home in Kumamoto that was submerged by rising waters, citing the governor of the prefecture.
Nine more were missing, it added, with one of the injured in a serious condition.
Mudslides smashed into houses and floodwaters carried trunks from uprooted trees. Several people were standing atop a convenience store as they waited for rescuers.
In the Tsunagimachi district, two of three people buried underneath mudslides were pulled out without vital signs, Kumamoto prefectural crisis management official Takafumi Kobori said. Rescuers were still searching for the third person.
In another badly flooded town of Ashikita, six people were unaccounted for and a seventh was seriously injured, Kumamoto officials said.
In the mountainous village of Kuma, residents stranded at their homes were being airlifted by a rescue helicopter. In Hitoyoshi city, rescuers transported some residents in a boat.
Flooding also cut off power and communication lines. About 8,000 homes in Kumamoto and neighboring Kagoshima were without electricity, according to the Kyushu Electric Power Co.
Prime Minister Abe set up a task force, vowing to do utmost to rescue the missing.
The Japan Meteorological Agency earlier issued warnings of extraordinary rain in parts of Kumamoto, about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) southwest of Tokyo, but later downgraded them as the rainfall — estimated at 100 milimeters (4 inches) per hour — subsided.
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