TOKYO (AFP) – The death toll from devastating landslides in western Japan rose to 46 on Saturday, as rescuers worked around the clock to comb through destroyed houses searching for survivors.
Local police said they cannot confirm the whereabouts of 41 local residents in the disaster-hit area of Hiroshima, where heavy rain early Wednesday triggered landslides that swallowed dozens of homes.
The rain had stopped by Saturday morning, but nearly 3,000 rescuers, soldiers and police officers remained wary, with meteorologists predicting another heavy downpour by evening.
The city government was upholding evacuation orders for more than 4,500 local residents amid fears of fresh landslides.
Emergency officials found six more bodies Saturday, bringing the toll to 46, a Hiroshima police spokesman said.
Confusion has reigned over the number of people potentially trapped in the debris as authorities continue to receive new reports of missing people, while some individuals believed lost were found alive at emergency shelters.
Local officials fear even more people could be unaccounted for, buried by the mud and not yet reported missing.
Firefighters and soldiers removed debris by hand where they could, cautious of using heavy machinery amid hopes of finding survivors.
Rain has complicated the search efforts in the area, where the hillsides are made of decomposed granite — a coarse sand-like material that is used for driveways and paths, and which occurs naturally in this part of Japan.
For hours on Friday afternoon, rescue workers had to suspend their operations when the shape of the mountains appeared to change, heralding a possible new landslip.