Heavy rain in southern Japan has triggered flooding and landslides, leaving more than a dozen people presumed dead, about 10 missing and dozens stranded on rooftops waiting to be rescued.
More than 75,000 residents in the prefectures of Kumamoto and Kagoshima were urged to evacuate following torrential rain overnight.
The evacuation was not mandatory and it was not known how many actually fled.
“I smelled mud, and the whole area was vibrating with river water. I’ve never experienced anything like this,” a man in a shelter in Yatsushiro city, in western Kumamoto, told NHK TV. He said he fled early fearing a disaster.
NHK footage showed large areas of Hitoyoshi town in Kumamoto inundated in muddy water that gushed out from the Kuma River. Many cars were submerged up to their windows.
Mudslides smashed into houses and floodwaters carried trunks from uprooted trees. Several people were standing on a convenience store as they waited for rescuers.
Kumamoto governor Ikuo Kabashima later told reporters that 14 residents at a flooded elderly care home in Kuma village were presumed dead after being found during rescue operations.
In Tsunagimachi district, two of three people buried underneath mudslides were feared dead, Kumamoto prefectural crisis management official Takafumi Kobori said. Rescuers were still searching for the third person.
In another badly flooded town, Ashikita, six people were unaccounted for and a seventh was seriously injured, Kumamoto officials said.
In the mountainous village of Kuma, residents stranded at their homes were being airlifted by a rescue helicopter. In Hitoyoshi city, rescuers transported some residents in a boat.
Flooding also cut off power and communication lines. About 8,000 homes in Kumamoto and neighbouring Kagoshima were without electricity, according to the Kyushu Electric Power Company.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set up a task force, vowing to do his utmost to rescue the missing. He said up to 10,000 defence troops were being mobilised for rescue operations.
The Japan Meteorological Agency earlier issued warnings of extraordinary rain in parts of Kumamoto, about 600 miles south west of Tokyo, but later downgraded them as the rainfall — estimated at 4ins per hour — subsided.