At least 270 elementary and junior high schools across Japan have been damaged by floods and mudslides caused by torrential rain earlier this month, the education ministry said Tuesday.
The western Japan prefectures of Okayama, Hiroshima and Ehime -- where most of the more than 200 deaths due to the disaster were counted -- reported around 150 schools closed, with many of them unable to resume classes, according to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.
Among other schools affected are those on Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost main island, and in Okinawa, the country's southernmost prefecture.
The death toll from the rain disaster in western Japan stood at 223 as of 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Police Agency. The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 4,700 people had been evacuated as of Monday evening.
The torrential rain and a preceding typhoon also hit the agricultural and fisheries industries nationwide, with the government estimating the damage at about 53 billion yen ($472 million) and warning it would rise.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is planning to visit Hiroshima Prefecture on Saturday to inspect the damage, said a member of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
(A junior high school in Kurashiki's Mabi district, one of the worst hit areas in the disaster)
Some schools have effectively entered summer break. The education ministry said teachers and parents need to pay attention to the psychological effect on students and a delay in the school curriculum due to the disaster.
"I'm shocked that I can't go to school," said a 13-year-old female student at a junior high school in Kurashiki, Okayama, adding her school uniform and study materials had been soaked by flood water.
A junior high school in Takahashi, also in Okayama, managed to resume classes Tuesday after being closed for a week. "I'm worried about whether I can catch up with my studies," said a 15-year-old female student.
An elementary school on the remote island of Nuwa off Matsuyama, Ehime, lost two of its six students to mudslides caused by the heavy rain.
Prior to resuming classes, a school counselor met with each of the remaining four pupils to see if they are mentally ready to attend classes. The school said it will continue to hold such hearings and check their condition.
"It was (so) sudden...and I still can't believe it happened," said Toshi Yamaguchi, the school's principal.
In areas where water supply remains cut off, authorities are worried about a potential disaster caused by fire.
Municipal governments are warning that flooded vehicles and solar power generation equipment at collapsed homes could start fires, while local firefighters say their work could be hindered if they cannot use fire hydrants.
Vehicles exposed to water could cause fires when electric systems malfunction, said an official of the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, urging owners to consult maintenance service providers before starting engines.
Five fire incidents caused by solar panels have already been reported in Kurashiki's Mabi area, where more than 4,000 homes and buildings were flooded, according to the city.
Firefighters in Uwajima, Ehime, where some areas are still without water supply, are now considering taking water from rivers or the sea.
The latest disaster has also highlighted the need to reassess flood risks near irrigation ponds, with only four of the 21 reservoirs that overflowed due to the heavy rain having been designated as priority areas to work on disaster mitigation steps, according to government officials.
A 3-year-old girl died in Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture, in the rain disaster because her house was washed away after an irrigation pond failed. The pond was not designated as a priority area, according to the city government.
Ponds with the designation can receive government subsidies more smoothly than other areas to take steps to minimize possible serious damage from downpours and other disasters.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries now plans to designate all irrigation ponds as priority areas as long as houses are located downstream of the ponds, according to ministry officials.
Japan has around 200,000 artificial ponds that have been created to secure water for agricultural use in areas that often face water shortage. But only about 11,000 of them have received the designation and some local governments have been slow in creating hazard maps showing areas with the potential for flooding.
A geographer said some local governments are too busy to devise hazard maps because they have so many ponds to deal with.
"Nearby residents need to be aware of the danger," said Kazuko Uchida, a professor emeritus at Okayama University.