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HIROSHIMA, Japan – People prepared for risky search and cleanup efforts in southwestern Japan on Monday, where several days of heavy rainfall had set off flooding and landslides in a widespread area. Japanese media reports said 88 people died and 58 people were missing.
Some residents in Hiroshima prefecture said they were caught off guard as the region was not used to torrents of rainfall, which began Friday and worsened through the weekend. Rivers overflowed, turning towns into lakes, leaving dozens of people stranded on rooftops. Military paddle boats and helicopters were bringing people to dry land.
In Hiroshima, water streamed through a residential area, strewn with fallen telephone poles, uprooted trees and mud. Some homes were smashed. Others were tilting precariously.
"It gives me a chill thinking what could have happened," said Eiko Yamane, who recalled realizing how suddenly water was seeping the tires of the car she was driving. She was able to escape.
"Hiroshima prefecture is normally blessed with mild weather and has few natural disasters so people here have never experienced a situation like this. I guess they're in a panic."
The assessment of casualties has been difficult because of the widespread area affected by the rainfall, flooding and landslides. Authorities warned that landslides could strike even after rain subsides as the calamity shaped up to be potentially the worst in decades. They also advised people wait for disaster professionals before venturing into damaged homes because of the dangers of exposed electric lines and hazardous material.
The Japanese government said Sunday that 92 people were still unaccounted for. More than 100 reports of casualties had been received, such as cars being swept away, and some 40 helicopters were out on rescue missions, it said.
"Rescue efforts are a battle with time," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters. "The rescue teams are doing their utmost."
The Japan Meteorological Agency said three hours of rainfall in one area in Kochi prefecture reached an accumulated 26.3 centimeters (10.4 inches), the highest since such records started in 1976.
A couple was found dead in a farmhouse buried in a mudslide in Kagoshima prefecture Monday, while earlier a woman who was reported as missing after getting trapped in her car was found dead, Kyodo news service reported. Kochi prefecture, on Shikoku, issued landslide warnings almost over the entire island.
The Japanese government set up an emergency office over the weekend, designed for crises such as major earthquakes. Japan has sent troops, firefighters, police and other disaster relief. People have also taken to social media to plead for help.
Okayama prefecture, south of Hiroshima, said in a statement that five people had died, seven were missing and 11 were injured, at least one of them seriously. Nine homes were destroyed, dozens more were damaged, while more than 500 were flooded.
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Yuri Kageyama, reporting from Tokyo, is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama
Her work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/yuri%20kageyama