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Rescue efforts continue as heavy rain kills 6 in southwestern Japan

Search and rescue operations continued Thursday as torrential
rain devastated Japan's southwestern main island of Kyushu, leaving
six dead and at least four missing from flooding and mudslides.

The Japanese government dispatched about 7,800 personnel --
police officers, firefighters and members of the Self-Defense Forces
-- to Fukuoka and Oita prefectures, where emergency warnings
triggered by the downpour were lifted early Thursday afternoon.

The body of Tetsuo Fujimoto, 66, was discovered in Asakura,
Fukuoka Prefecture, while in Hita, Oita Prefecture, two people were
confirmed dead -- a 79-year-old man found in a river and Taketo
Yamamoto, a 43-year-old male rescue worker engulfed by a mudslide.

Three other casualties were also later confirmed in Asakura.

According to the Fukuoka prefectural government, four people
remained unaccounted for. In Oita Prefecture, 15 people could not be

"The government will do its utmost to save victims and take
stock of the damage, placing priority on people's lives," Chief
Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference, adding that
it may consider expanding the scale of the rescue effort depending on
the level of devastation.

The Japan Meteorological Agency had urged "utmost vigilance" in
Fukuoka and Oita, saying a once-in-decades disaster was possible due
to unstable atmospheric conditions.

As of 10:30 a.m. Thursday, about 450,000 people from about
186,000 households had been ordered to evacuate to safer shelter. But
in the two prefectures, at least 700 people were stranded due to
damaged roads. The rain also disrupted rail services and left up to
6,300 homes without power in Fukuoka, Kumamoto and Oita prefectures
on Thursday.

About 106,000 people in 39,000 households were still subject to
evacuation orders as of Thursday afternoon.

Major mobile phone carriers NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp. and
SoftBank Group Corp. said Thursday that rainfall disrupted smartphone
and mobile phone connections in some areas in northern Kyushu with no
resumption in services in sight anytime soon.

"We have yet to grasp the whole picture of the damage," disaster
management minister Jun Matsumoto told a ministerial meeting called
Thursday in response to the disaster. He ordered rescue personnel to
work closely with municipal governments to save lives.

In Asakura, hit hard by nearby flooded rivers, 54 people,
including 18 pupils, were left stranded at an elementary school.
About 1,700 homes were cut off from their water supply in the morning
in the city, which saw record precipitation of 545.5 millimeters over
a 24-hour period through 11:40 a.m. Thursday.

The number of people waiting to be rescued remains unknown but
residents called for help on Twitter, with some posting photos or
asking about the whereabouts of their family members.

Kyosuke Hosaka, a 65-year-old resident of Asakura, narrowly
escaped muddy water that broke through the entrance of his home,
shattering windows and washing away furniture.

"The water poured into my home with an awful destructive noise,"
he said, describing how the water reached chest level in a matter of

Hosaka escaped to higher ground by swimming and holding onto
drifting objects. "It was really a near-death experience," he said.

Among those left stranded overnight in their homes in Asakura,
Yuki Oyabu, 47, said, "We saw what was just like a river right in
front of us. We could not even go to an evacuation center." The
severity of the situation meant she was forced to stay at home with
her two daughters.

A senior Asakura city official expressed concerns over the
extent of the damage, saying, "The affected area is wide and the
condition is much worse" than the heavy rainfall that hit Kyushu five
years ago, leaving more than 30 people dead or missing.

The rain also hit western Japan and a 67-year-old man in
Hiroshima Prefecture remains unaccounted for. It is feared he was
swept away as he carried out a check on a water channel near his
home, something he did every morning as a duty for the local
community, police said.

The heavy rain was brought about by a swath of cumulonimbus
clouds that stayed over the area in line with the movement of a
seasonal rain front.

Rainfall of over 50 millimeters per hour was registered in some
areas in Kyushu and further precipitation is expected through Friday,
the weather agency said. (July 7)

A massive landslide caused by torrential rains is seen in Hita, Oita Prefecture, on July 6, 2017 as torrential rains struck parts of Japan's southwestern main island of Kyushu. (Kyodo)

People who were left stranded at an elementary school in Asakura, Fukuoka Prefecture, hit hard by nearby flooded rivers, evacuate on July 6, 2017. Search and rescue operations continued as torrential rain hit Japan's southwestern main island of Kyushu. (Kyodo)

A house in the city of Hita is seen flooded on July 6, 2017, following torrential rain in southwestern Japan. (Kyodo)

A railway bridge over a river in the city of Hita is washed away as seen in the photo taken July 6, 2017, from a Kyodo News helicopter, following torrential rain in southwestern Japan. (Kyodo)