More than 100,000 flee floods in Japan after 'once-in-50-years' rain

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Japan Floods Trigger Rescue Operation


Unprecedented rain in Japan unleashed heavy floods on Friday that tore houses from their foundations, uprooted trees and forced more than 100,000 people from their homes.

Helicopters hovering over swirling, muddy waters rescued many people from the roofs of their homes. Two people were missing and at least 17 were injured.

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Some areas received double the usual September rainfall in 48 hours after tropical storm Etau swept across Japan's main island of Honshu. In some places, rain-swollen rivers burst their banks.

A 63-year old woman was missing in a landslide that hit her home while a man in his 70s in the town of Joso, 56 km (35 miles) north of Tokyo, was feared trapped when water engulfed his home, NHK national television said.

"We heard a huge sound like a thunderclap, and then the hillside came down," a man told NHK, referring to the landslide that swept away his neighbor.

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More than 100,000 flee floods in Japan after 'once-in-50-years' rain
Rescue workers transport evacuees in a rubber boat through floodwaters at Oyama in Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo on September 10, 2015. Authorities in central Japan ordered tens of thousands to flee their homes after torrential rains flooded rivers and triggered landslides, with one person missing after a mudslide buried houses. The Japan Meteorological Agency issued special downpour warnings for Tochigi and Ibaraki prefectures, north of Tokyo, urging vigilance against mudslides and flooding. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of a local fire brigade stand on a flooded street as they watch a rescue operation by helicopters in Joso city in Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo on September 10, 2015. A Japanese city was flooded when a raging river burst its banks, washing away homes and cars as desperate residents pleaded for help, after tens of thousands were ordered to flee their homes following torrential rains. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)
A police helicopter lifts an evacuee with a rescue police officer from floodwaters in Joso city in Ibaraki prefecture, north of Tokyo on September 10, 2015. A Japanese city was flooded when a raging river burst its banks, washing away homes and cars as desperate residents pleaded for help, after tens of thousands were ordered to flee their homes following torrential rains. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)
Local residents wait to be rescued on the roof of their home in a flooded area in Joso, Ibaraki Prefecture, on September 10, 2015. The Japanese city 50 km north east of Tokyo was flooded when Kinugawa river burst its banks, destroying homes and cars as desperate residents waited for help, and as thousands of people were ordered to evacuate. AFP PHOTO/Jiji Press JAPAN OUT (Photo credit should read JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)
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Television broadcast footage of helicopters winching people to safety, including an elderly couple clutching a pair of struggling dogs as the flood tore away pieces of their home.

A further 800,000 people were at one point advised to evacuate after officials issued predawn warnings of "once in a half century rains" to 5 million people in areas east and north of Tokyo.

Japan has put heavy emphasis on disaster prevention since a 2011 earthquake and tsunami killed nearly 20,000 people and authorities are keen to avoid criticism for what was seen as a sluggish response.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned of more rain and said he was setting up an emergency center.

"The government will work as one to prioritize the safety of the people and do our best to prevent any further disaster," Abe told reporters.

Television footage showed people in Joso waving towels while waiting for help on the upper floors of homes engulfed in floods after the overflowing Kinugawa river swept through.

"I thought I was safe because I live on a hill, but pretty soon the water came up and everything was washed away," a barefoot man told Fuji TV after his helicopter rescue.

Up to 12 military helicopters took part in the rescue along with an initial 55 members of Japan's military, the Self Defence Force. Officials said their number would rise.

Rescue workers rushed to find people before nightfall.

Part of a hotel in the town of Nikko, famed for its shrines and temples, had collapsed, Kyodo news agency said, but there were no reports of injuries.

Rainfall reached 500 mm (20 inches) around Joso, NHK said, with weather officials expecting at least 200 mm (8 inches) more in parts of eastern Japan, including Fukushima, the site of the nuclear reactor crippled in 2011, before the downpour stops on Friday.

(Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

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