Japanese authorities have dramatically increased their estimate of the number of people still missing after a mudslide devastated a seaside town over the weekend.
Reports said three people had died in the disaster, which occurred after days of torrential rain in Atami, a famous spa resort about 60 miles (90 km) southwest of Tokyo.
Officials initially said around 20 people were still missing, but the number rose to 113 after checking residential records rather than relying on information of missing people.
“We are in contact with various groups and are advancing the research,” local spokesman Hiroki Onuma told Reuters. So far, 23 people have been rescued, the city government said.
Onuma said the rain had stopped in Atami, but added that more was expected. “The situation is unpredictable,” he said.
Several landslides struck part of the city on Saturday morning, sending torrents of mud and stones through the streets and destroying around 130 buildings.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said police, firefighters and vigilante soldiers were trying to locate the survivors. “We want to save as many victims who were buried under the rubble as possible, and as soon as possible,” he said.
Shizuoka Prefecture Governor Heita Kawakatsu said authorities would investigate whether construction projects in the area reduced the mountain’s ability to hold water and triggered the mudslide.
“The prefecture will examine the causal relationship between the two factors,” Kyodo news agency said, citing the latter.
Heavy precipitation topped the usual monthly total for July in just 24 hours, loosening huge amounts of soil that tumbled down the steep slopes leading to the Pacific Ocean.
With much of Japan affected by the annual rainy season, the weather agency said heavy rains were also expected across the country and warned people to be vigilant against further mudslides, floods and swollen rivers.
“My mother is still missing,” an Atami resident told NHK state broadcaster. “I never imagined something like this could happen. “
Naoto Date, who returned to his hometown to check for damage, said the mud sank down a steep slope in the mountain and turned into a downpour when it hit a narrow river below.
“I just wanted to cry when I saw what happened,” he said.