Japan rescuers go house to house as flood toll hits 156

A man with a showel walks on a damaged road in a flood hit area in Mabi, Okayama prefecture on July 10, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 11 July 2018
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Japan rescuers go house to house as flood toll hits 156

  • Around 75,000 police, firemen and troops have been deployed in the search and rescue operation across parts of central and western Japan
  • The government said it would tap around $20 million in reserve funds to provide aid to those affected by the disaster

KURASHIKI, Japan: Hopes of finding survivors were fading on Tuesday as rescue workers carried out house-to-house searches after days of deadly floods and landslides that have claimed 156 lives in Japan’s worst weather-related disaster for decades.
The record downpours that began last week have stopped and receding flood waters have laid bare the destruction that has cut a swathe through the west of the country.
In the city of Kurashiki, the flooding engulfed entire districts at one point, forcing some people to their rooftops to wait for rescue.
Rescue workers were going door-to-door, looking for survivors — or victims — of the disaster.
“It’s what we call a grid operation, where we are checking every single house to see if there are people still trapped inside them,” an official with the local Okayama prefecture government told AFP.
“We know it’s a race against time, we are trying as hard as we can.”
Hideto Yamanaka was leading a team of around 60 firefighters dispatched from outside the prefecture searching homes.
“I’m afraid elderly people who were living alone may have failed to escape,” said Yamanaka, 53.
“Physically weak people may have been late in getting out when it suddenly started raining hard, swamping the area,” he told AFP.
As night fell, rescuers continued searches, “but we still don’t know if we will carry out the operation around the clock,” said Akiko Harada, a spokeswoman at the disaster management section of the city of Hiroshima, where 14 people were still unaccounted for.
In the Mabi district of Kurashiki, the water left behind a fine yellow silt that has transformed the area into moonscape.
Cars driving through kicked up clouds of dust. People walking around wore medical masks or covered their mouths with small towels to protect themselves against the particulates.
Stores were still closed, and inside one barber’s shop the red sofas, customer chairs, and standing hair dryers were all covered with the same silt.
Fumiko Inokuchi, 61, was inside her home, sorting through the damage caused by floods that submerged the entire first floor.
She escaped the house on Saturday, crossing the street to take shelter in a three-story care home for the elderly, from where she watched in horror as the waters rose.
“I saw my house sink underwater and I couldn’t do anything at all, there was just nothing I could do. I felt helpless,” she said, retrieving a photo of her children playing baseball.
“I got married here, and we built this house two years afterwards. We raised our three small sons to adulthood here, there are so many memories,” she said, her eyes welling with tears.

It is Japan’s deadliest weather-related disaster in more than three decades, and has sparked national grief.
On Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe canceled a four-stop foreign trip as the death toll rose, and he will visit Okayama on Wednesday.
Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday that at least 156 people had been killed. Media reports said dozens more were missing and the toll was expected to rise further.
Around 75,000 police, firemen and troops have been deployed in the search and rescue operation across parts of central and western Japan, Suga said, warning that hot weather posed new risks.
Thousands of people remain in shelters, and local authorities in some areas were offering drinking water and bathing services for those without their own supply.
“It will be over 35 Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) in some areas... Please be careful about heatstroke if you’re doing reconstruction outdoors, and continue to be vigilant about landslides,” Suga said.
The government said it would tap around $20 million in reserve funds to provide aid to those affected by the disaster.
And even with the rains over, the risk of flooding remained, with the town of Fuchu in Hiroshima issuing a new evacuation order as a local river burst its banks.
“Driftwood and dirt has piled up... and now the water has started overflowing from the river,” a spokesman for the local fire department told AFP.
“We are on high alert,” he added.
In Ehime prefecture, authorities said they were struggling to get emergency food and water to some cut-off areas.
“We are sending them by boat and air routes,” said Yoshinobu Katsuura, a spokesman for the prefecture’s disaster management department.
“It will take a lot of time to see devastated areas recover.”


‘Makkah Road Initiative’ to fast-track Malaysian and Indonesian Hajj pilgrims

Updated 2 min 4 sec ago
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‘Makkah Road Initiative’ to fast-track Malaysian and Indonesian Hajj pilgrims

  • Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia join forces to launch the “Makkah Road Initiative"
  • It will help Hajj pilgrims to fast-track journeys to the Holy Land

KUALA LUMPUR: Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia have joined forces to launch the “Makkah Road Initiative” this year, a pre-clearance system that will help Hajj pilgrims to fast-track journeys to the Holy Land.
Two flights carrying Hajj pilgrims were commissioned at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to mark the official launch, which was attended by officials from Malaysia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
According to Minister in the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Office for Islamic Affairs, Dr. Mujahid Yusuf, who also launched the Makkah Road Initiative, pilgrims will no longer have to wait in long queues to finalize documentation such as visa stamps, customs, and health screenings.
“All these will be sorted out in KLIA, and when our (Malaysian) pilgrims arrive (in Madinah), they can just take the bus to the hotel. Their luggage will be managed by the Saudi authorities,” Dr. Yusuf added.
A world first, the initiative has been made possible by multi-agency collaboration within Saudi Arabia, as well as weeks of preparation by officials in the Kingdom, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Makkah Road Initiative will cut time and entrance procedures for pilgrims from Malaysia and Indonesia to Saudi Arabia through a “unified electronic paths” and “pre-clearance procedures” before arrival at Madinah airport, according to officials.
The services provided under the initiative include issuing visas, customs and passport procedures, facilitating health requirements, baggage management, and housing arrangements in Makkah.
The initiative also involves checking off the pilgrims’ entry visas into the Kingdom at the airport when the flight departs. Travel arrangements will be “confirmed electronically”, including health requirements where pilgrims can skip the paper documents on vaccines at the airport in their own country.
Fingerprints and passports are to be taken and stamped “electronically” in their home country before departure. Pilgrims will fly from either the Kuala Lumpur International Airport or the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, and will arrive at the Prince Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz in Madinah.
The pilgrims will check out at the airport arrival hall “like a domestic flight” while their luggage will be sorted to their places of residence by the Ministry of Hajj.
With an increasing number of Muslim pilgrims to Makkah each year, the Saudi Arabian government has made serious efforts to streamline the process.
“We really appreciate this progress by the Kingdom,” said Zainol Rahim Zainuddin, Malaysian ambassador to the Kingdom, adding that the initiative showcased the close partnership between the governments of the Kingdom and Malaysia.
Indonesia, which has the biggest Muslim population in the world, had 221,000 of pilgrims arriving in Makkah last year. Malaysia, a Muslim majority nation, increased its number of pilgrims to 31,300 in 2017 from an initial projection of 30,200.
The Makkah Road Initiative is part of the National Transition Programs (2020). It aims to fulfil the Vision 2030 objective of having well-developed public services and infrastructure throughout the Kingdom.