By Yuri Kageyama, AP
TOKYO — Most of the quarter-million people forced to flee massive flooding in southwest Japan were able to return home by Monday, but weather officials warned the danger had not fully passed from the record rainfall that left at least 27 people dead over the weekend.
Thousands of homes and hundreds of roads were damaged, and hundreds of landslides were reported. The military airlifted food by helicopter to stranded districts.
The rain “was like a waterfall,” Yoko Yoshika said in Yamaguchi prefecture (state). “It was horrible.”
Yoshika, wife of an award-winning Hagi-yaki style potter, said workers scrambled to carry out a bucket relay with plastic pails to get rid of the water flowing into their shop.
In Yame, a city of 69,000 in Fukuoka prefecture, 74 people in three separate areas were stranded by the flooding.
“Our region gets hit with heavy rain every year, but I have never experienced anything like this,” city employee Kumi Takesue said.
“Rice paddies and roads all became water so you couldn’t tell what was what,” she said, adding that she had to wade in knee-high water, even near her home, which was not as hard hit as other areas.
Killed in Yame city were Katsutoshi Matsumoto, a 70-year-old who died when caught in a landslide while he was out looking at his rice paddies, and Shinobu Fueta, 83, whose home was buried in mud.
Weather officials warned people to be careful even in areas where rain had subsided because the land was still mushy and prone to landslides. Rain could start again later Monday, further endangering the area, they said.
Even as some of the water subsided, homes and farms on the southern island of Kyushu, hardest hit by the downpour, were still getting food shipments, although mostly by land, local officials said.
Kyodo News service said 27 people were dead and police were still searching for five missing people in the three prefectures of Kumamoto, Oita and Fukuoka. Nationwide tallies of the dead and missing were not immediately available.
The rain was concentrated in certain spots in a sprawling region of southern Japan, extending as far north as the ancient capital of Kyoto, where rainfall exceeded 90 millimeters (3.5 inches) per hour — a condition in which rain cascades down in such torrents that seeing ahead becomes impossible.
Evacuation orders were gradually being lifted, allowing most to return home by late Sunday.
Fukuoka prefecture said that as of Monday, damage there extended to more than 4,300 homes, 800 roads and 20 bridges. At least 518 landslides were recorded, and more than 2,700 people had evacuated their homes, it said in a statement.