The landslide came on Saturday after days of heavy rain in Atami, which, like many Japanese seaside towns, is built on a steep hill. He passed through the Izusan district, known for its hot springs, shrine and shopping streets. The city has a registered population of 36,800 and is located about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Tokyo.
Shizuoka Governor Heita Kawakatsu, who inspected the area where the mudslide is said to have started on Monday, said the rain had penetrated the mountainside, apparently weakening the soil under a huge pile of earth at a construction site. which then slid down the slope.
The prefecture is investigating. Media reported that a real estate development project in the area was scrapped after its operator encountered financial problems.
Witnesses described a giant roar as a small stream turned into a torrent, and passers-by were heard gasping in horror on cellphone videos taken as it happened.
Naoto Date, an actor visiting Izusan, was woken up by sirens. His neighborhood is now inundated with muddy water with lifeguards wading through knee-deep mud. A few blocks from his house, some houses were completely washed away, only their foundations are still visible. Mutilated road signs stick out of the mud. On the waterfront, he saw cars floating with debris from destroyed houses.
“I grew up here, and my classmates and friends live here. I am so sad to see that my neighborhood where I used to play with my friends is now destroyed,” Date told The Associated Press by videoconference from his home. to Atami.
As Date’s mother, who was staying next door, moved to a hotel with other evacuees, the actor said he was staying away from evacuation centers because he was concerned about the coronavirus .
The Izusan area is one of 660,000 places in Japan identified as prone to mudslides by the government, but these designations are not widely publicized and public awareness is low. Early July, towards the end of the rainy season in Japan, is often a time of deadly floods and mudslides, and many experts say the rains are getting worse due to climate change.
While other parts of the country expected heavy rains, authorities urged residents near the hills in at-risk areas to exercise caution. Public broadcaster NHK aired a program on Monday about the risk factors and warning signs that could precede a landslide.
A year ago, floods and mudslides triggered by heavy rains in Kumamoto and four other prefectures in Kyushu region in southern Japan killed nearly 80 people. In July 2018, the hills of overcrowded residential neighborhoods in Hiroshima collapsed, killing 20 people. In 2017, mudslides and flooding in the Kyushu region killed 40 people.
Miyoko Okamoto, an employee of an elderly care home, said the mudslide approached her home but narrowly missed it. She and her son ran out of the house, while her husband, a community association leader, escorted the neighbors to safer ground.
Okamoto said she had not returned home since her flight because she was helping residents at the care home. “We were lucky to have survived, and that is the most important,” she said.
But his neighbor is still looking for his wife. “They are good friends of ours,” she said, “and it hurts my heart.”