FEATURE: Grief and devastation in flood-hit Japan

TOKYO (The Straits Times/ANN) - Many lost their lives after their homes were swept away by floods or were crushed by landslides.

On June 14, Mr Koji Tsunomori, 54, exchanged vows with his bride, Nana, 44.

Three weeks later, she is one of at least 158 people who died after the historic deluge in western Japan last week.

Many lost their lives after their homes were swept away by floods or were crushed by landslides.

Both Mr Tsunomori and his bride were divorcees - it was their second marriage. His two stepsons, Minori, 13, and Kenta, two, and his mother-in-law, Madam Hiroko Aoki, are still missing, after rain washed away their home in Kumano town in Hiroshima, Mainichi Shimbun reported yesterday.

The grief-stricken Mr Tsunomori, who is based in neighbouring Shimane prefecture for work, now blames himself for not telling his family to evacuate as the river banks started to overflow.

His was one of the several heartbreaking anecdotes that have surfaced in domestic media as traumatised family members start to make their way back to their homes and sieve through the wreckage.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to visit the worst-hit areas of Okayama prefecture today. The government said it would tap about two billion yen (S$24 million) of its reserve funds for emergency relief. Offers of aid have also begun to trickle in, with Taiwan pledging 20 million yen and Japanese e-commerce firm Zozotown offering 7,000 pieces of clothing.

The latest tally by public broadcaster NHK said 57 people were still unaccounted for. Hiroshima was the hardest hit in terms of the number of deaths - 59 - followed by Okayama with 54. Kurashiki city in Okayama reported 47 dead.

The rain has stopped in the disaster-hit region but the situation remains perilous in many areas.

More than 23,000 residents in Fuchu, Hiroshima, were told to evacuate again yesterday morning due to flooding as debris and uprooted trees blocked the flow of the Enoki River.

Some 75,000 emergency-response personnel, activated to deal with the country's worst flooding disaster since 1983, are racing against time to find survivors and reach those who are stranded.

Relief efforts are also under way to distribute food and water, set up temporary toilets and install air-conditioners in evacuation centres as the mercury soared to about 35 deg C for the second day yesterday, prompting heatstroke advisories.

The government has called the heavy rain that battered central and western Japan from last Thursday through Sunday as "historic". The deluge set records by up to three times the average monthly rainfall for July in several areas, with at least 119 weather-point locations reporting record rainfall.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency estimates that at least 340 homes were totally or partially destroyed, and nearly 10,000 homes were flooded. Damage to the country's agricultural, forestry and fishery industries totalled at least 7.2 billion yen, Farm Minister Ken Saito said, adding that the entire picture remained unclear.

Meanwhile, Okinawa is bracing itself for Super Typhoon Maria, which is packing maximum gusts that might reach 250kmh. It is expected to slam directly into the prefecture's southern-most islands of Miyako and Ishigaki today.

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