Twenty missing in central Japan landslide. 300 homes affected, thousands given evacuation orders

At least twenty people are missing in central Japan after a huge landslide hit Atami city following heavy rainfall.

Social media footage showed torrent of black mud plummeting down from a mountain top and on through the city towards the sea. Several houses were destroyed or buried.

Two bodies have been found by the coast guard, the local governor said.

A resident said he heard a “horrible sound” and fled as the landslide engulfed everything in its path.

Atami, a popular hot-spring resort in the prefecture of Shizuoka, has had more rainfall in the first three days of July than it usually sees in the whole month.

The weather has been similar in neighbouring Kanagawa prefecture.

Japan is a very mountainous and densely populated country where landslides are not unusual. But such events are becoming more frequent due to climate change.

A witness told NHK: “I heard a horrible sound and saw a mudslide flowing downwards as rescue workers were urging people to evacuate. So I ran to higher ground.”

Another resident, Chieko Oki, told AFP news agency: “The big electricity pylons here were shaking all over the place and no sooner had I wondered what was going on than the mudslides were already there.”

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has put together a task force to respond to the disaster and the wider emergency caused by heavy rainfall on the Pacific coastline.

Police, firefighters and members of Japan’s military are involved in a search operation.

Atami’s Mayor Sakae Saito told local media that up to 300 homes had been affected by the landslide.

Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of residents in three prefectures – Shizuoka, Kanagawa and Chiba – have been ordered to evacuate following warnings of further flooding in low-lying areas.

Last July dozens were killed in flooding. More than 200 died in 2018 when parts of western Japan were inundated.