At least 50 people were missing and four in critical condition as torrential rain that has killed 38 people pounds western and central Japan, public broadcaster NHK said on Saturday, with more than 1.6 million evacuated from their homes.
Japan’s Meteorological Agency retained special weather warnings for three prefectures in the main island of Honshu, down from five, and urged vigilance against landslides, rising rivers and strong winds amid what it called ‘historic’ rains.
In Motoyama, a town on Shikoku island, about 600 km from the capital Tokyo, 583 mm of rain fell between Friday and Saturday morning, the agency said.
Although a weather front had settled between western and eastern Japan, there was a risk heavy rains would continue as warm air flowed towards the front, it added, with already-saturated areas facing more rain on Sunday.
Among the dead were a man who fell from a bridge into a river in western Hiroshima city, and a 77-year-old man in Takashima, 56 km east of the ancient capital of Kyoto, who was swept into a canal as he worked to remove debris, NHK said.
Four people in Ehime, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi prefectures were in critical condition after being injured in landslides, it added.
By Saturday morning, more than 1.6 million people had been ordered to evacuate their homes for fear of flooding and further landslides, with 3.1 million more advised to leave, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.
Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said about 48,000 police, firefighters and members of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces were responding to appeals for help.
The weather also hit industry. Some automakers halted production as the rain and flooding disrupted supply chains and risked workers’ safety, Kyodo news agency said.
Mitsubishi Motors Corp halted operations at one plant because it could not get parts, Kyodo said. Mazda Motor Corp stopped production lines at two plants so employees would not have to travel in hazardous conditions.
Reuters could not reach the firms for comment outside business hours.
Meanwhile, a 5.9-magnitude earthquake hit Japan Saturday evening outside of Tokyo, swaying buildings in the capital, but no tsunami warning was issued.
The quake hit at 8:23 pm, at a depth of 39 kilometres, off the east coast of Honshu, Japan, the US Geological Survey said.
Japan’s meteorological agency said no tsunami warning was being issued.
There were no immediate reports of damage after the quake, a relatively rare strong tremor to hit the capital.
Residents in part of the Chiba region outside Tokyo reported strong tremors, with some saying the shaking had knocked objects from shelves, but there were no immediate injuries reported.
Public broadcaster NHK said no abnormalities had been detected at nuclear facilities in the region.
A spokesman for Narita airport outside the capital said the quake had forced a brief suspension of operations.
‘We temporarily closed the runways but resumed operation after confirming there was no damage. The quake was fairly strong but there was no panic at the airport,’ he said.
The quake comes several weeks after a deadly tremor rocked the Osaka region, killing five people and injuring over 350.
Japan sits on the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ where many of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are recorded.
On March 11, 2011, a devastating 9.0-magnitude quake struck under the Pacific Ocean, and the resulting tsunami caused widespread damage and claimed thousands of lives.
It also sent three reactors into meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant, causing Japan’s worst postwar disaster and the most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
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