For more than a week, Japan has been battered by floods driven by torrential rains, spurring widespread evacuations and the deaths of at least 58 people by Wednesday. Many people remained missing.
Tens of thousands of troops, police officers and other rescue workers have been mobilized to work their way through mud and debris in the hardest-hit towns along the Kuma River — known as the “raging river” because it is joined by another river just upstream and often floods — in Japan’s southernmost main island, Kyushu.
More flooding and landslides were expected on Wednesday as the rains, some of the heaviest the country has experienced in decades, moved into northwest Japan. There were reports of swollen rivers, mudslides and damaged homes and roads in two mountainous central prefectures as the authorities issued emergency warnings.
NHK television footage showed swollen water in the Hida River tearing into the embankment and destroying a national highway.
In southern Japan, the death toll continued to rise as rescue workers performed more search-and-rescue operations. The authorities lowered rainfall warnings for the region but said the threat of further flooding and mudslides remained.
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said that 49 victims had come from riverside towns in Kumamoto Prefecture. Another victim, a woman in her 80s, was found inside her flooded home in a different prefecture.
An older woman told the public broadcaster, NHK, that she had started walking down the road to evacuate, but that floodwaters had risen quickly to her neck.
Another woman said, “I was almost washed away and had to grab an electrical pole.”
Soldiers have used boats to rescue residents as floodwaters flowed down streets. Footage from Fukuoka, a city of 1.5 million people in Kyushu, showed troops wading through knee-high water pulling a boat carrying a mother, her 2-month-old baby and two other residents.
“Good job!” one soldier could be heard saying, according to The Associated Press, as he held the baby against his chest while the mother got off the boat. Several children wearing orange life vests over their wet T-shirts arrived on another boat.
In Kuma village in Kumamoto Prefecture, dozens of residents took shelter under a roofed structure in a park with no walls or floor. The village office’s electricity and communications were cut.
More than three million residents were advised to evacuate across Kyushu, Japan’s third-largest island, but it was unclear how many did.
In Gero, a man washed down mud at the entrance of his riverside house despite the evacuation advisory. “I was told to run away and my neighbors all went, but I stayed,” he said, according to The A.P. “I didn’t want my house to be washed away in my absence.”
The Land Ministry recorded at least 71 landslides across 12 prefectures, according to Kyodo News. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the government would double rescue and relief personnel to 80,000.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga urged residents to use caution: “Disasters may happen even with little rain where grounds have loosened from previous rainfalls.”
Some companies in the region have temporarily halted operations, with the automakers Toyota and Mazda and the electronics conglomerate Panasonic pausing operations at certain plants on Monday because of heavy rain, according to Reuters.
Disasters are common during Japan’s rainy season. In July 2018, more than 200 people, about half of them in the Hiroshima area, died from heavy rain and flooding in southwestern Japan.
The country is also prone to being hit by typhoons: About 100 people died last October when Typhoon Hagibis, the largest storm to reach Japan in decades, struck the country’s northeast. Climatologists say the problem of heavy storms has been exacerbated by global warming.