million urged to seek refuge as floods and landslides hit Japan

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More than a million people have been urged to seek refuge as torrential rains triggered floods and landslides in western Japan, leaving at least one dead and two missing.

Authorities in Hiroshima and northern Kyushu issued their highest evacuation alert as the weather agency reported unprecedented levels of rain in the region on Saturday.

As part of the non-mandatory alert, around 1.4 million residents were told to leave their homes immediately, state broadcaster NHK reported.

TV footage showed rescuers towing residents through submerged streets on a lifeboat in Kurume town in Fukuoka, as a muddy stream began to overflow in nearby Saga Prefecture.

A 59-year-old woman has died and two of her family members are missing after a landslide destroyed two homes in Unzen, Nagasaki prefecture, a local official said.

“More than 150 soldiers, police and firefighters have been dispatched to the site for relief operations,” Takumi Kumasaki told AFP. “They are carefully searching for missing residents, while monitoring further mudslides as the heavy rains continue. “

Showers are forecast for several more days over much of the country. Scientists say the climate crisis heightens the risk of heavy rains in Japan and elsewhere, as a warmer atmosphere holds more water.

“Unprecedented levels of heavy rains have been observed,” Yushi Adachi, an official with the meteorological agency, told reporters in Tokyo. “It’s very likely that some sort of disaster has already happened. Maximum alert is necessary even in areas where the risk of landslides and floods is usually not that high. “

Last month’s downpours caused a devastating landslide in the resort town of Atami, killing 23 people, four of whom are still missing.

In 2018, more than 200 people died in the floods that flooded western Japan during the country’s annual rainy season.

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