Japan PM to meet stranded evacuees in flood disaster zone

Rescue workers were still digging through the aftermath of flash floods and landslides that swallowed whole neighbourhoods. Photo: AFP / Martin Bureau

KURASHIKI, Japan - Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe headed to one of the areas worst-hit by record rains as the death toll rose to 179 and thousands of evacuees remained stranded in shelters.

Abe, who cancelled a four-stop foreign trip planned for this week as the disaster worsened, was due to visit the flood-ravaged Okayama area to see the scale of the damage first-hand.

With dozens reportedly still missing, the toll from the worst weather-related disaster in Japan in over three decades is expected to rise further.

Rescue workers on Wednesday were still digging through the aftermath of flash floods and landslides that swallowed whole neighbourhoods, but hopes were fading that any new survivors could be found.

Abe was scheduled to fly over the Mabi district to view the damage, and meet with evacuees and local officials to discuss their needs.

Over 10,000 people were still in shelters across large parts of central and western Japan, local media said, including at a school in the town of Kurashiki in Okayama prefecture.

Around 300 people spent the night at the Okada Elementary School, many of them sleeping on blue mats laid out in the school's gym.

The days of record rainfall transformed roads into rivers, and waves of mud swept down hillsides, carrying cars and trees with them.

In Kurashiki, the receding floods have left a layer of silt on everything that was underwater.

Crushed cars and fallen trees moved by work crews to either side of one main street formed piles of debris lining the road.

And despite the let-up in the rains, new flood warnings were still being issued on Wednesday.

The town of Fukuyama in Hiroshima prefecture issued an evacuation order over fears that a small lake could burst its banks.

A similar order was issued on Tuesday in the town of Fuchu, also in Hiroshima, after driftwood backed up in a river, causing water to crest over its banks and submerge surrounding neighbourhoods.

An official there said on Wednesday that the alert had been downgraded, but urged residents to remain cautious.

Government officials have also warned people to remain on guard against the possibility of fresh landslides, with the torrential rain loosening earth on hillsides around residential areas.


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