Japan faces 'more frequent' weather disasters as toll from latest reaches 200

by Reuters
Thursday, 12 July 2018 08:34 GMT

Rescue workers and Japan Self-Defense Forces soldiers search for missing people at a landslide site caused by heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

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Severe weather has been battering the country more regularly in recent years, raising questions about the impact of global warming

* Scorching heat, lack of water raises disease fears

* Death toll hits 200, dozens still missing

* More than 200,000 households without water

* (Recasts with comment from spokesman)

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Issei Kato

KURASHIKI, Japan, July 12 (Reuters) - Japan risks more severe weather and must find ways to alleviate disasters, a government spokesman said on Thursday, as intense heat and water shortages raised fear of disease among survivors of its worst weather disaster in 36 years.

Torrential rain that struck western Japan a week ago caused floods and landslides, killing 200 people, many in communities that have existed for decades on mountain slopes and flood plains largely untroubled by storms.

But severe weather has been battering the country more regularly in recent years, raising questions about the impact of global warming. Dozens of people were killed in a similar disaster last year.

"It's an undeniable fact that this sort of disaster due to torrential, unprecedented rain is becoming more frequent in recent years," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Tokyo.

Saving lives was the government's biggest duty, he said.

"We recognise that there's a need to look into steps we can take to reduce the damage from disasters like this even a little bit," he said.

He did not elaborate on what steps the government could take.

An evacuee takes rest at Okada elementary school that is used as an evacuation center in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Submerged and destroyed houses are seen in a flooded area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

More than 200,000 households had no water a week after disaster struck and many thousands of people were homeless.

With temperatures ranging from 31 to 34 Celsius (86 to 93 Fahrenheit) and high humidity, life in school gymnasiums and other evacuation centres, where families spread out on mats on the floors, began to take a toll.

Television footage showed one elderly woman trying to sleep by kneeling across a folding chair, arms over her eyes to keep out the light.

With few portable fans in evacuation centres, many survivors waved paper fans to keep cool.

Tight water supplies meant that people were not getting enough fluids and in danger of suffering from heat-stroke, authorities said.

"Without water, we can't really clean anything up. We can't wash anything," one man told NHK television.

The government has sent out water trucks but supplies remain limited.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on a visit to Kurashiki city, promised to provide help as soon as possible. He is set to visit two other hard-hit areas on Friday and the weekend.

More than 70,000 military, police and firefighters toiled through the debris in a search for bodies.

Teams used diggers and chainsaws to clear landslides and cut away wreckage of buildings and trees.

Many areas were buried deep in mud that smelled like sewage and had hardened in the heat.

(Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko Writing by Elaine Lies Editing by Darren Schuettler, Robert Birsel)

Rescue workers and Japan Self-Defense Force soldiers search for missing people at a landslide site caused by a heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, western Japan, July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

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