Japan PM Visits Deadly Landslide Site

By ELAINE KURTENBACH | August 26, 2014

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Hiroshima on Monday as rescuers expanded their search for 28 people missing in landslides five days ago that killed more than 50 people.

Rain showers raised risks for more slides, hampering the search effort and also triggering slides elsewhere in mountainous and densely populated Japan. The Fire and Disaster Management Agency reported two women died in another slide in northern Japan on Sunday.

The death toll from the Aug. 20 landslides in the western city of Hiroshima climbed to 52 as local officials revised the number missing to 28 people. Some in the earlier estimate of 38 were located in evacuation shelters, while others’ names were duplicated inadvertently.

About 1,700 people were staying in shelters as evacuation advisories remained in effect for areas where rain-soaked slopes are unstable.

About 3,300 rescuers combed through debris with picks, shovels and chain saws, as the search was extended for bodies that might have been swept further away as the slides rushed through.

Abe postponed an inspection visit Sunday to avoid interfering with disaster relief operations, but met with evacuees and with a disaster task force Monday in Hiroshima.

“We want to restore peoples’ safe, normal lives as soon as possible,” he said.

Abe cut short his summer holiday but has drawn some criticism for briefly continuing a golf game after hearing of the disaster.

An average 1,000 landslides a year occur in Japan, and the land and transport ministry says about 520,000 slopes are at risk for such disasters.

Heavy rains continue to pose a threat in many areas, including Hiroshima, where rescue work was suspended occasionally due to fears of further collapses.

Authorities are considering setting up an early warning system for landslides, reports said Monday. No evacuation warning was issued before the Hiroshima slides, though some survivors spoke of strange, dank smells that emerged before the hillsides collapsed.

But for Japanese whose homes are located in or near deep ravines and mountains, many of them elderly people unable to dash to safety, the threats often are realized after it is too late.

The home that was crushed Sunday in northern Japan’s Hokkaido, squeezed between a road and a steep hill, was destroyed in an instant. Only one of its three residents was rescued – a man fortunate enough to be near the door when tons of mud came crashing down.

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