High heat, rain thwart search in Atami

Seventeen people are still unaccounted for more than a week since massive mudslides devastated Atami city in Shizuoka Prefecture. The search for survivors has been seriously affected by poor weather conditions, and more rain is expected this week.

“I feel it’s really dangerous, because another disaster might happen due to the relentless rain,” said Sato Kunihiro, who is taking part in what has proven to be a perilous search. “We have been swept off our feet, and buried in mud. This rescue effort is more intense than others.”

Rescuers forced to stop

On Friday, about 1,700 rescuers were sidelined after a small area had collapsed. They could do little except stand by, waiting for the chance to resume the search. Most of the work is being done by hand because the area is too dangerous for the use of machinery.

Rescue workers continue to search houses and remove debris with their hands.

The crew was sent back into the area three hours later, but the extreme humidity proved to be another test. Many rescuers broke into a sweat. Sometimes, they were waist-deep in mud. On Saturday and Sunday, the temperature topped 30 degrees Celsius.

“I still can't believe it, but this is the reality. I just want everyone missing to be found soon,” said Araki Michio, 73, who watched as rescuers cleared the mud and debris.

Araki described the pain of seeing his hometown stricken by the disaster. He revealed that although his family members are safe and his home was spared, some of his friends are missing.

Concern rises for elderly residents

Parts of Atami still have no water supply, and some roads are still blocked. For affected residents, it has meant a steep climb uphill to reach water stations. On Monday, local authorities started bringing bags of water to people who need them.

People walking to the water stations
Many people must walk up steep steps to reach water stations.

The mudslides damaged or washed away about 130 buildings. Almost 600 people remain in hotels that are being used as evacuation centers. On Monday, authorities allowed them to temporarily return to their homes to retrieve essential items that they have gone without for days. Local officials are working urgently to secure public housing for those who have lost their homes.