Japan flood toll nears 200 as thousands battle thirst

More than 200,000 households left with no water, raising fears of disease outbreak

JAPAN: Intense heat and water shortage raised fears of a disease outbreak in flood-hit western Japan yesterday as the death toll from the worst weather disaster in 36 years rose to 195.

More than 200,000 households had no water a week after torrential rains caused floods and set off landslides across western Japan, bringing death and destruction to decades-old communities built on mountain slopes and flood plains.

Several dozen people are still missing, the government said yesterday.

With daily temperatures above 30 deg C and high humidity, life in school gymnasiums and other evacuation centres, where families spread out on mats on the floors, began to take a toll.

With few portable fans in the evacuation centres, many survivors tried to cool themselves with paper fans.

The limited water supply meant that people are not getting enough fluids and are in danger of suffering from heatstroke, authorities said. People are also reluctant to use what water they have to wash hands, raising fears of an epidemic.

"Without water, we cannot really clean anything up. We cannot wash anything," one man told NHK television.

The government has sent water trucks to the disaster area but supplies remain limited.

More than 70,000 military, police and firefighters toiled through the debris in a grim search for the missing.

Some teams shovelled dirt into sacks and piled the bags into trucks.

Others used diggers and chainsaws to work through landslides and splintered buildings.

Many areas were buried deep in mud that smelled like sewage and had hardened in the heat, making the search more difficult.

Disasters set off by torrential rains have become more frequent in Japan, perhaps due to global warming, experts say. Dozens of people died after similar rains caused flooding around the same time last year.

"It is an undeniable fact that this sort of disaster due to torrential, unprecedented rains is becoming more frequent in recent years," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference in Tokyo.

"Preserving the lives and peaceful existence of our citizens is the government's biggest duty. We recognise that there is a need to look into steps we can take to reduce the damage from disasters like this, even a little bit," he added. - REUTERS