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TOKYO - Torrential rain in the southwestern Japan prefecture of Kumamoto triggered massive flooding Saturday, leaving one woman dead, 15 people feared dead and nine others missing, local authorities said, as the weather agency warned of downpours to continue.
Around 203,200 residents were asked to take shelter in Kumamoto Prefecture and neighboring Kagoshima Prefecture. A total of 109 shelters opened in 17 municipalities in Kumamoto housing at least 871 evacuees, with measures against the new coronavirus.
A woman in the town of Ashikita in Kumamoto was confirmed dead, according to the local government. Of the 15 found showing no vital signs, 14 were at a nursing home in Kuma in the prefecture, near a river that overflowed. In hard-hit areas, cars and houses were submerged, leaving residents waiting for rescue on rooftops.
The Japan Meteorological Agency raised heavy rain warnings in many parts of the prefectures to the highest of three levels shortly before 5 a.m., the first time it has done so for the two prefectures.
The agency said heavy rains are forecast to continue through Sunday, warning of overflowing rivers, mudslides and flooding in low-lying areas.
The Kuma River overflowed and caused extensive flooding, and some 20 meters of a dike of the river in Hitoyoshi collapsed, according to a local bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. Amakusa in Kumamoto had seen record precipitation of 98 millimeters per hour, according to the agency.
The Kumamoto prefectural government requested the dispatch of Ground Self-Defense Force personnel for disaster relief work.
Residents in Hitoyoshi, Yatsushiro and some other villages in Kumamoto have been stranded as roads were cut off or flooded. Police, firefighters and GSDF members have geared up in rescue efforts but are finding it difficult to reach some mountainous areas.
Haruka Yamada, a resident of Ashikita, said nearby houses were already flooded when she woke up to the sound of rain around 4 a.m.
"I saw large trees and parts of houses being washed away and heard them crashing into something. The air is filled with the smell of leaking gas and sewage," the 32-year-old said.
Yukinobu Katsueda, chief priest at a Buddhist temple in Kuma, said, "I heard an enormous sound of water gushing in the middle of the night. My house has been flooded to the second floor and the village is devastated."
At the temple some 40 elderly people took shelter but without food. "We have no electricity, no water. The road is flooded and cut off. I can't bear it if this situation continues," Katsueda said.
Mayumi Noguchi, another Ashikita resident, said, "I have lived here for more than 20 years but I've never seen such a calamity." She said she saw cars being pushed out in a brown muddy river and mudslides at a nearby mountain.
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency meeting of Cabinet ministers that about 10,000 Self-Defense Forces personnel would be mobilized for relief efforts, ordering the immediate shipment of relief supplies to affected residents.
Shinkansen bullet train services in the prefectures have been suspended, Kyushu Railway Co. said.
Nippon Telegraph and Telephone West Corp. said some 33,100 phone lines in southern Kumamoto Prefecture were disconnected, affecting its internet services. Japan's top three mobile phone carriers, SoftBank Corp., KDDI Corp., and NTT Docomo Inc. also said there have been disruptions to its communication network in parts of Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures.
A rain front that brought the downpour to Kumamoto and Kagoshima as well as Miyazaki is expected to straddle western and eastern Japan areas through Sunday, the weather agency said, warning of heavy rain particularly in parts of western Japan.