A huge landslide that engulfed homes in western Japan killed at least 32 people and left another 10 missing, the government said on Wednesday.
Dozens of houses were buried when a wall of mud thundered down a hillside in Hiroshima overnight, television pictures showed, leaving rescuers to pick through the devastation for any signs of life.
“According to the National Police Agency, the death toll has risen to 32,” said an official of the disaster management office, a government body.
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The number of dead had risen rapidly from an initial toll of four, although emergency services said it was too early to tell exactly how many people had lost their lives.
There are “several spots where people are supposed to be buried alive, and we still don’t know how many people are missing”, an emergency services spokesman informed.
Among the dead was a 53-year-old rescuer, who was killed by a secondary landslide after he had pulled five people to safety, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.
Aerial footage showed several houses buried by sludge, their wooden frames splintered by the weight of the mud.
Torrents of brown water raced off mountains behind the homes and through the wrecked buildings, hampering rescuers’ efforts as they searched for anyone still trapped.
Emergency workers were seen climbing up to the second floor and roofs of half-collapsed houses — some of which were floating — in a bid to reach any survivors.
Pictures showed there had been at least five different landslides, some having uprooted trees and carried rocks down the hillside.
One man, gesturing to the mud-covered remains of a house, told NHK: “My house is over there, flattened.”
Pointing elsewhere, he said: “A leg was seen (sticking out of the mud) and they are trying to confirm if the person is alive. The first thing we have to do is to help that person.”
Another man told reporters he had seen everything he owned swept away.
“We could hear the earth rumbling and all of a sudden, things roared past us,” he said.
A woman told of how she had escaped death because of where she had been at the time the disaster struck.
“I was able to survive as I stayed in the middle of the house. Both sides were destroyed.”