Japan tackles clean-up as rains toll nears 200

Photo_Web_Japan_Flood_120718

Rescue workers in Japan battle to reach residents trapped after devastating rains.

Rescue workers in Japan battle to reach residents trapped after devastating rains.

Photo_Web_Japan_Flood_120718

Rescue workers in Japan battle to reach residents trapped after devastating rains.

Rescue workers in Japan battle to reach residents trapped after devastating rains.

TOKYO - Japanese rescue workers searched the ruins of homes on Thursday looking for dozens of people still missing after deadly rains that killed nearly 200 people.

Operations were under way to dig out and clear up after the devastating floods and landslides that engulfed entire neighbourhoods.

But with around 60 people still feared missing, local authorities said they would continue searching house by house looking for survivors, or victims.

"The critical 72 hours have passed," acknowledged Mutsunari Imawaka, an official with Okayama prefecture, one of the worst-hit regions.

"But we will continue our search believing there are still survivors," he told AFP.

He said at least 18 people were missing in Okayama alone, and that several thousand people were checking houses across the region.

Television footage showed dozens of rescuers, including troops, removing massive rocks with mechanical diggers from houses buried in landslides.

Rescuers were also manually shovelling dirt to search for missing people.

The rains are the deadliest weather-related disaster in over three decades in Japan, and the size of the death toll has raised questions about whether authorities were sufficiently prepared.

Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday said there would be a review of disaster management policies.

"In recent years we have seen damage from heavy rains that is much worse than in previous years," he said.

"We have to review what the government can do to reduce the risks."

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who cancelled a foreign trip as the death toll rose this week, brushed aside criticism of the response during a trip to Okayama on Wednesday.

"We have done our best since the disaster happened," local media quoted him as saying.

On Thursday, he pledged to ramp up help for affected areas and said the government had secured around 71,000 temporary homes for evacuees.

"Looking ahead, as we are expecting a massive amount of disaster-generated waste, I plan to send a team to each prefecture to support" clean-up efforts, Abe said, according to footage of a morning meeting broadcast on local television.

The government has already said it will set aside around $20 million for the relief effort and Abe said there would be financial support for local governments to help with the reconstruction effort.