At least two people were washed away and several more are missing after a powerful mudslide swept through a small seaside town to the west of Tokyo, Japanese officials said Saturday.
Several homes were swept away as the torrent of black water and debris crashed through rows of houses in Atami, Heita Kawakatsu, the governnor of the Shizuoka prefecture told a news conference.
Two people were washed into the sea by the mudslide, he said, adding that their hearts had stopped but their deaths were not yet officially declared. Details about their identities were not released.
“I offer my deepest condolences to everyone who has suffered,” he said. Utmost efforts will be made to rescue lives, he added.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called together an emergency task force to handle the crisis, as police, firefighters and members of the military were deployed to help search and rescue operations.
However, poor weather conditions prevented them from flying helicopters and drones, Suga told a news conference.
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“We would like to express our heartfelt sympathy to those who have been affected,” he said.
Torrential rains slammed parts of Japan starting earlier this week. Experts told the Associated Press that dirt had been loosened, increasing landslide risks in a country filled with valleys and mountains.
Around 60 miles southwest of Tokyo, Atami is known for its hot springs, shopping streets and a famous shrine.
Footage shown on public broadcaster NHK TV showed the mudslide racing down a mountainside, devastating buildings and cars. Part of a bridge had also collapsed.
Shizuoka prefecture spokesman Takamichi Sugiyama said that evacuation warnings were issued for a widespread area, The Associated Press reported.