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Japan mounts huge rescue effort after mudslide leaves two dead and 20 missing

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said 19 people had been rescued, and 130 homes and other buildings in Atami had been damaged.

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Rescuers carry out a search operation inside a building at the site of a mudslide at Izusan in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, south-west of Tokyo (Kyodo News/AP)

Rescuers carry out a search operation inside a building at the site of a mudslide at Izusan in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, south-west of Tokyo (Kyodo News/AP)

Rescuers carry out a search operation inside a building at the site of a mudslide at Izusan in Atami, Shizuoka prefecture, south-west of Tokyo (Kyodo News/AP)

More than 1,000 soldiers, firefighters and police are wading through a giant mudslide that ripped through a Japanese resort town on Saturday, killing at least two people and leaving about 20 missing as it swept away houses and cars.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters 19 people had been rescued, and 130 homes and other buildings were damaged in Atami.

Two people were dead but more were feared missing, he said, speaking after an emergency cabinet meeting.

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Rescuers wade through mud, searching for people trapped or swept away (Kyodo News/AP)

Rescuers wade through mud, searching for people trapped or swept away (Kyodo News/AP)

AP/PA Images

Rescuers wade through mud, searching for people trapped or swept away (Kyodo News/AP)

Earlier, disaster officials said about 20 were unaccounted for, but warned the number may rise. Shizuoka prefecture officials said three people had been injured.

“The area is still having heavy rainfall, but arduous rescue efforts will continue,” Mr Suga said, warning residents to watch out for more landslides. “Please act as quickly as you can to stay safe.”

Troops, firefighters and other rescue workers, backed by three coastguard ships, were working to clear the mud from the streets of Atami and reach those believed to be trapped or carried away.

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The rescue workers were barely visible in the rainfall and thick fog except for the their hard hats. Six military drones were being flown to help in the search.

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A rescuer conducts a search operation with sniffer dog (Kyodo News/AP)

A rescuer conducts a search operation with sniffer dog (Kyodo News/AP)

AP/PA Images

A rescuer conducts a search operation with sniffer dog (Kyodo News/AP)

Shizuoka governor Heita Kawakatsu told a news conference on Sunday that land development upstream from the affected area may have played a role in the disaster.

Citing preliminary drone examination, he said massive amounts of soil heaped up in the area were washed down, although it was not immediately known whether the development was the direct cause.

Mr Kawakatsu said he will investigate the land development. Media reports said a planned housing development had been abandoned after its operator had a financial problem.

The mudslide crashed down a mountainside into rows of houses early on Saturday, following heavy rains that began several days ago.

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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said 130 homes and other buildings in Atami had been damaged (Kyodo News/AP)

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said 130 homes and other buildings in Atami had been damaged (Kyodo News/AP)

AP/PA Images

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said 130 homes and other buildings in Atami had been damaged (Kyodo News/AP)

Witnesses said they heard a giant roar and then watched helplessly as homes were swallowed up by the muddy waves.

Mariko Hattori, an interpreter who lives a short walk from where the tsunami-like torrent of mud struck, said: “The first things I noticed were lots of emergency vehicles. I didn’t know what happened at first. Then I was frightened when I saw the footage.”

The area of Atami where the mudslide struck, Izusan, is a seaside resort about 60 miles south west of Tokyo. It is known for hot springs, a shrine and shopping streets.


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