Heavy rains triggered a landslide in Atom, Shizuoka prefecture, 90 kilometers (56 miles) southwest of Tokyo. Footage posted on social media showed a black water crash into the city from a mountain, destroying homes in its path as neighbors watched in horror.
Rescue efforts were stepped up over the weekend as police, firefighters and members of the Japanese Defense Forces joined in tough and occasional treacherous operations. An additional 13 people were rescued Sunday, an Adami city official said, adding that one of them was seriously injured and later died, bringing the death toll to three.
The official added that 25 survivors had been rescued and 80 had not been counted. Authorities had earlier said 113 people were missing.
Of the population currently unaccounted for, some are unlikely to have been in the city at the time of the landslide, the city official said. The official added that authorities were working to confirm their whereabouts.
Security of 135 of 215 residents The official said the landslide-prone areas of Atami’s Isuzu district have been confirmed.
Yuji Shima, who lost the house and all his belongings, was evicted to his friend’s house with his wife and mother.
“The landslide was like a tsunami – it was like a big wave, it made a thunderous noise and crashed to the ground,” Shima said. “Electric pylons trembled as they collapsed to the ground.”
Shima said there was “mud and chemical odor in the air” as the landslide fell down.
“It happened in a split moment,” he said, prioritizing the safety of his family over anything else and not bringing any items with him when he left his home.
More than 130 homes were swept away in the mud, according to the Adami City Fire and Management Agency. Authorities began evacuating people Saturday.
There are three exhaust centers in Atami. The two private hotels in Attami are home to 562 people, the city official said.
At a press conference on Sunday, Shizuoka Governor Heita Kawakatsu will examine whether the landslide was caused by deforestation in the area, which could have reduced the soil’s water retention capacity.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suka on Saturday expressed his condolences to the victims of the landslide and stressed that they are doing everything they can to save the lives of emergency workers, rescue people and help with evacuations.
Suka added that heavy rains would continue to affect various parts of the country, and urged citizens to check risk maps in their local area and focus on weather updates and evacuation information.