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A landslide on the outskirts of the city of Hiroshima, triggered by torrential rain, has left at least 27 people dead, including several children.
Following a month’s worth of rain falling in just 24 hours, slopes saturated by heavy rain over the past few weeks gave way, sending mud and boulders on to homes.
The force of the landslide caused asphalt roads to crumble, with streams of mud tearing through neighbourhoods, turning houses into piles of twisted wreckage.
Boulders with a diameter of as much as three metres lay scattered around the area, as helicopters hovered overhead, lifting out survivors.
A resident told Fuji TV: “There was rain and thunder all night, beating down so hard Iwas scared to go outside. Great big drops. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Rescue workers searched through mud and piles of stones, searching for ten people who are still missing.
Among those dug out of the debris were two brothers, aged eleven and two, whose house was struck as they slept. Their house had been pushed around 100 metres by the landslide.
Disaster management experts said that soil in the area was of a kind that absorbed water until it suddenly loosened and slid, increasing the danger.
The Japan Meteorological Agency said that around 240mmm (9 inches) of rain fell in 24 hours up to Wednesday morning, with around half of that falling in just one hour.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cut short his summer vacation to head back to Tokyo. He said he would dispatch several hundred military personnel to help with rescue efforts.
With land so scarce in Japan, developments often expand into mountainous areas, leaving them vulnerable to landslides.
Landslides killed 31 people in Hiroshima in 1999, including six people in the same area this time.
More rain heavy downpours are expected in the same area in the next few days.