TOKYO (AFP) — Two people were confirmed dead Wednesday as heavy rains pounded southwest Japan, prompting flood and landslide warnings and orders for 670,000 people to seek safety.
Nearly 1 million more people were advised to leave their homes as the country’s weather agency raised the alert to its highest level for parts of northern Kyushu.
The emergency warning is issued “if there is a significant likelihood of catastrophes.”
Officials confirmed two deaths, one in western Saga prefecture, where a man was found in a car that had been swept away. A second man died in Fukuoka as he tried to escape from a car trapped in rising floodwaters.
Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said a third person, in Saga, was in a state of cardiorespiratory arrest, a term employed by Japanese officials to indicate a person’s death before it is confirmed by a doctor.
“There are many reports of damage in different areas due to flooding of rivers, landslides, and submerged houses, and there is a possibility of serious damage occurring in the coming hours,” Suga said.
Evacuation orders and advisories issued by local authorities are not mandatory, although officials urge residents to heed them.
For those leaving after such warnings, government shelters are available, though some choose to stay with friends and family.
The fire and disaster management agency said it already had received multiple reports of flooded houses in Saga and Nagasaki prefectures.
“We are seeing unprecedented levels of heavy rains in cities where we issued special warnings,” a spokesman for the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
“It is a situation where you should do your best to protect your lives,” weather agency official Yasushi Kajiwara said.
He urged those living in areas under evacuation advisories to act quickly.
In Saga, a mother wearing a life vest in a rescue boat told public broadcaster NHK she had been saved from the floodwaters.
“I was so scared, as I have a little child. I’m worried there could be worse damage because there’s an ongoing power outage,” she said.
Elsewhere, a man in a shelter in Saga said he was sleeping as floodwaters entered his home.
“When I woke up, water surged to my feet,” he told NHK. “I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s important to evacuate early.”
The JMA’s emergency warnings affect areas in Saga, Fukuoka and Nagasaki, where the severe weather has disrupted transport, forcing the suspension of some train services and some road closures.
Television footage showed rivers swollen by rain and parked cars sitting in muddy brown water nearly up to the vehicles’ roofs.
Small landslides have been reported.
At a station in Saga, stranded passengers sat on benches with water around their ankles.
A woman living near an overflowing river said she had been awakened by the sound of heavy rain and a warning alarm on her phone indicating a disaster alert.
“This is very rare. Rice fields and other places are flooded. It’s like a sea,” she told NHK.
Japanese authorities regularly urge people to take evacuation orders seriously, particularly after disastrous heavy rains last summer in Japan’s west killed more than 200 people.
Many of the deaths were blamed on the fact that evacuation orders were issued too late and some people failed to follow them. Entire neighborhoods were buried beneath landslides or submerged in floodwaters during the disasters.
© Agence France-Presse