Japan Landslide Toll Rises to 39 as Search Continues

Aug 21, 2014 5:41 am ET

(Corrects name of DPJ leader in penultimate paragraph.)

Aug. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Torrential rain yesterday triggered landslides in the western city of Hiroshima that national broadcaster NHK said killed 39 people and left seven missing.

About 630 self-defense forces personnel have been sent to the area, along with about 90 vehicles and four aircraft, the defense ministry said. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cut short his vacation yesterday and returned to Tokyo to coordinate the government’s response to what he called “unprecedented” rain, while Russian President Vladimir Putin today conveyed his condolences to Abe.

A record 217.5 millimeters (about 8.5 inches) of rain fell in parts of Hiroshima over three hours yesterday morning, the meteorological agency said. Television footage showed the arrival of uniformed troops to help rescue workers pick through mud and collapsed buildings to find survivors. About 2,500 military, police and fire personnel are searching for victims, NHK reported.

“I offer my condolences for those who lost their lives and my sympathy to those who have suffered,” Abe told reporters at his official residence. “There is damage on a large scale and there may be more rainfall, so I ordered the government to work together on a response.”

Disaster management minister Keiji Furuya went yesterday to the city that lies about 800 kilometers (497 miles) west of Tokyo. At least one rescue worker was among the dead, the Sankei newspaper reported, citing the Hiroshima fire department.

Heavy rain may fall across much of Japan today, NHK reported, citing the meteorological agency, which warns of more landslides and flooding today.

Vacation Golf

The news from Hiroshima led Abe to cut short a game of golf yesterday in Yamanashi Prefecture, where he has a summer home, with Trade Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and former Prime minister Yoshiro Mori, the Jiji news agency reported.

In 2001, Mori came under pressure to resign as premier when he finished a round of golf after being told a Japanese fishing boat carrying 13 high school students had been struck off Hawaii by a U.S. submarine.

Banri Kaieda, leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, criticized Abe for not abandoning his golf game more quickly, the Nikkei reported. Abe got the report about the landslide, though didn’t stop playing until he was told of fatalities, the newspaper said.

Abe returned to his summer home in Yamanashi yesterday evening, the Mainichi newspaper reported.