Sep 11, 2015 12:01 AM

Rescuers search for missing after Japanese city flooded

The Associated Press

JOSO, Japan (AP) Rescue workers searched for more than 20 missing people in a flooded city near Tokyo on Friday, as the sun came out a day after a raging river washed away houses and forced people to rooftops.

Dozens of residents were airlifted out by military helicopters Friday morning after waiting overnight in Joso city, just northeast of Japan's capital. They arrived at an athletic field in the city, carrying a few clothes and food in shopping bags, some of them without shoes.

City officials said 22 people were missing after they had lost contact with them following requests for rescue. Three were injured, including one seriously. More than 3,500 people were staying in evacuation centers.

Some 300 kilometers (190 miles) to the north, another river overflowed into the city of Osaki on Friday, swamping homes and fields and stranding 60 people, according to media reports.

In Joso, Hisako Sekimoto, 62, spent a sleepless night on the second floor of her flooded house with her husband and three cats before they were airlifted by a Self Defense Force helicopter early Friday. Minutes after the floodwater gushed into the house Thursday afternoon, all of their furniture was floating and the water was up to her neck.

"There was no time to escape all we could do was go upstairs. It was horrifying," she said. "I kept praying the water wouldn't come upstairs."

Central and eastern Japan were doused with unusually heavy rains Wednesday and Thursday on the heels of Tropical Storm Etau that triggered flooding and landslides.

A body of a woman in her 60s was found after a landslide hit a few houses at the foot of a steep, wooded hill in Kanuma city, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.

The water had somewhat subsided in Joso on Friday, but the city remained largely flooded, and it was not immediately known when the evacuees will be able to return home.

On Thursday, the rising waters of the Kinugawa River broke through a flood berm, sending water gushing into the city of 60,000 people about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Tokyo.

Live video Thursday on Japanese broadcasters showed a series of dramatic rescues by helicopter as residents waved for help from rooftops and second-floor balconies.

Reiko Yamaji, 75, was stranded at a supermarket with dozens of other shoppers while she and her daughter-in-law Tomoko, 41, were buying rain boots on their way to work. Part of the first floor was submerged under water.

"We spent the night in the car parked on the rooftop parking lot. Water was cut and toilets were out of service, but I'm so glad we all survived," Yamaji said, turning a bit teary. She said her son, who was elsewhere in the city, was rescued by a boat.

Akira Motokawa, a city evacuation official, told public broadcaster NHK that rescuers have been unable to keep up with the volume of calls for help.

As of Thursday night, 3,580 people in the affected 37-square kilometer (14-square mile) area were sheltered at schools, community centers and other safer areas.

About 400 residents had evacuated to City Hall, carrying small bags of personal items.

Yuko Kawamoto, 58, said she decided to leave her home with her 80-year-old mother after watching TV images of the water pouring out of the embankment. "It almost looked like a tsunami," she said.

She said the muddy water was ankle-deep when they left their house, carrying duffel bags and an umbrella each, and was almost up to their hips when they reached the evacuation center.

All told, 27 people have been injured by the storms in Japan, including three elderly women who were seriously hurt when strong winds knocked them over, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.


Moritsugu reported from Tokyo.


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