30 dead as record rains devastate parts of Japan

Residents look at a flooded road in Hiroshima on Satuday, July 7. Record downpours prompted authorities to order more than 210,000 people to evacuate their homes, with some areas hit by more than a metre of rainfall. (AFP)
Updated 08 July 2018

30 dead as record rains devastate parts of Japan

  • At least 30 people killed as homes disappear beneath floodwaters and landslides
  • Japanese authorities order over 1.9 million evacuations

TOKYO: Record rainfall devastated parts of Japan on Saturday, killing at least 30 people, as homes disappeared beneath floodwaters and landslides, and authorities ordered over 1.9 million evacuations.
The unprecedented downpours have wreaked havoc primarily in the west of the country, with flash floods and landslides leaving dozens more missing in addition to those killed.
A local official in Ehime, in western Japan, said the toll in his area had jumped from six to 16, bringing the official national fatality figure to at least 30 dead since the massive rains began Thursday.
But that figure was expected to rise further, with public broadcaster NHK saying the toll was at 49.
“The number of casualties is expected to increase as we are still in the middle of collecting information,” Yoshinobu Katsuura, a disaster management official of Ehime prefecture, told AFP.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned “the situation is extremely serious” and ordered his government to “make an all-out effort” to rescue those affected.
The floods have blanketed entire villages, submerging streets up to roof level. In some places, just the top of traffic lights could be seen above the rising waters.
“My house was simply washed away and completely destroyed,” Toshihide Takigawa, a 35-year-old employee at a gas station in Hiroshima, told the Nikkei daily.
“I was in a car and massive floods of water gushed toward me from the front and back and then engulfed the road. I was just able to escape, but I was terrified,” 62-year-old Yuzo Hori told the Mainichi Shimbun daily in Hiroshima.
Authorities have issued their highest level of alert for the rains and ordered more than 1.9 million people to evacuate their homes, mostly in western Japan.
But the orders are not mandatory, and many people have become trapped inside homes that were engulfed by floodwaters or hit by landslides.
The deadly rains began earlier in the week, claiming their first victim on Thursday when a construction worker was swept away by floodwaters in Hyogo prefecture in western Japan.
The toll has risen steadily since then, with many of those reported missing later confirmed dead.
The victims included a man in his sixties whose body was found near a bridge in Hiroshima on Saturday. Another man was killed in the same region when a mudslide struck his house, a local government official said.
The conditions hampered rescue operations, with some desperate citizens taking to Twitter to call for help.
“Water came to the middle of the second floor,” a woman in Kurashiki, Okayama wrote, posting a picture of her room half swamped by flooding.
“The kids could not climb up to the rooftop,” she said. “My body temperature has lowered. Rescue us quickly. help us.”
In Okayama region, residents were sitting on top of their homes waiting for help as the rainwater swirled below. Helicopters were being flown over several affected areas to help airlift those affected to safety.
In Hiroshima, a wooden bridge was washed away entirely by a rain-swollen river and rescuers dug through the dirt as landslides crushed houses in the same region.
The government has deployed nearly 50,000 troops, police and firefighters for rescue operations, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said another 21,000 troops were on stand-by, adding: “I instructed them to carry out rescue operations by using every possible means of land-sea-and-air forces.”
Several major manufacturers, including carmakers Daihatsu and Mitsubishi, said they had suspended operations at plants in the affected areas, Kyodo news agency reported.
Japan’s Meteorological Agency has issued warnings at the highest level of its alert system — only issued when the amount of rain is expected to be the highest in decades — for large parts of western Japan.
By Saturday night, the agency had begun lifting its warnings in part of the country, though its officials told reporters heavy rain was forecast to continue until Sunday in western and eastern Japan.


Rockets target Eritrea as Ethiopia leader resists calls for dialogue

Updated 52 min 30 sec ago

Rockets target Eritrea as Ethiopia leader resists calls for dialogue

  • For more than three weeks now, Ethiopia and Tigray have engaged in fierce fighting
  • Global concern remains centered on the half a million residents of Mekele, Tigray’s regional capital

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, came under fire from Ethiopia’s breakaway Tigray region Friday, raising fears that Ethiopia’s internal conflict could spread as leader Abiy Ahmed resisted calls for dialogue.
For more than three weeks now, Ethiopia and Tigray have engaged in fierce fighting that the International Crisis Group said Friday had left thousands dead “including many civilians as well as security forces.”
On Friday night, at least one rocket fired from the northern Tigray region targeted neighboring Eritrea, four regional diplomats told AFP.
Abiy, the winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, announced Thursday a “third and final phase” in his campaign against leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Global concern remains centered on the half a million residents of Mekele, Tigray’s regional capital, which the army says it has encircled ahead of the threatened attack.
World leaders and human rights groups have warned such a strike could violate rules of war and were calling for urgent mediation.

Pope Francis was among those worried about the intensifying fighting, growing loss of life and displacement, Vatican media head Matteo Bruni said Friday.
Abiy announced military operations in Tigray on November 4 after months of friction between his government and the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades before Abiy took office in 2018.
The prime minister has refused to negotiate with the TPLF and dismissed calls for dialogue as “interference” in Ethiopia’s internal affairs.
On Friday he met with three African ex-leaders — Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa — dispatched this week by the African Union as mediators.
In a statement issued after their meeting in Addis Ababa, Abiy said he appreciated “this gesture and... the steadfast commitment this demonstrates to the principle of African solutions to African problems.”
Even so, the government has a “constitutionally mandated responsibility to enforce rule of law in the region and across the country,” his office said in a statement.
“Failure to do so would further a culture of impunity with devastating cost to the survival of the country,” it said.
UN chief Antonio Guterres welcomed the talks with the AU envoys and urged all parties to “peacefully resolve the conflict.”
The UN Secretary-General also stressed the need “to ensure the protection of civilians, human rights and access for humanitarian assistance to the affected areas.”
The Tigrayan government, meanwhile, said Friday the federal army was bombarding towns and villages and inflicting heavy damage, although it did not specifically mention Mekele.
“Our struggle will continue from every direction until the self-determination of the People of Tigray is guaranteed and the invading force is driven out,” Tigrayan authorities said in a statement read on regional television.
A communications blackout in Tigray has made it difficult to verify claims from both sides on the fighting.
Hostilities have erupted in a year when the 55-member AU — which is headquartered in Addis Ababa — resolved to play a more prominent role in resolving conflicts across the continent under the slogan “Silencing the Guns.”
At least one rocket fired from Tigray targeted neighboring Eritrea Friday night, four regional diplomats told AFP, the second such attack since Ethiopia’s internal conflict broke out earlier this month.
There was no immediate confirmation of how many rockets were fired, where they landed, and any casualties or damage caused.
The TPLF has accused Ethiopia of enlisting Eritrean military support in the fighting, a charge Ethiopia denies.
The group claimed responsibility for similar strikes on Eritrea two weeks ago, but there was no immediate comment from its leaders Friday.
Abiy, who ordered the “final” offensive on TPLF forces in Mekele after the lapsing of a deadline for their surrender earlier this week, said “great care” would be taken to protect civilians and spare the city from severe damage.
The prospect of a full-scale attack accelerated diplomatic efforts this week to resolve the conflict, with the UN Security Council holding its first meeting on Tigray and US and European officials urging restraint.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who met his Ethiopian counterpart Demeke Mekonnen in Paris on Thursday, called for urgent measures to protect civilians as the humanitarian fallout from the crisis worsened across the region.
The UNHCR said Friday that nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray could run out of food as early as Monday if supplies could not reach them.
In eastern Sudan, meanwhile, where more than 40,000 refugees have escaped the fighting in Tigray, local authorities are struggling to meet the sudden surge in demand for food, shelter and other life-saving essentials.