Japan survivor search halted over landslide fears: police
A vehicle is buried in mud one day after a landslide hit a residential area in Hiroshima, western Japan on August 21, 2014 - by Jiji Press
"Operations in (two districts) were halted as mountains there were becoming misshapen," a Hiroshima police spokesman said. Rescuers have been "evacuated as there is a risk of a fresh landslide".
The order came two days after a rescuer was killed when he was buried by a secondary landslip as he tried to carry a three-year-old boy to safety following one of the worst mudslides in recent years.
Takatoshi Okamoto, a spokesman for Hiroshima City's disaster management, said the order had come from the central government.
"We have been informed that the shape of the surface in the mountain appeared to have changed because of the rain we have had today.
"Vice disaster management minister (Yasutoshi) Nishimura ordered us to suspend rescue operations in the particular area. We don't know the impact of the suspension on the entire operations."
Meteorologists have warned of possible heavy rain falling almost continually from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening.
Dozens of homes were destroyed when mountainsides collapsed on the outskirts of Hiroshima on Wednesday, sending tonnes of mud, rocks and debris crashing into suburban communities.
More than 4,000 people have now been ordered to evacuate their homes after forecasters warned more rain was on the way to already soaked hillsides, heaping misery on an area that has seen record downpours.
The confirmed death toll remained unchanged Friday at 39, but the number of missing was raised to 52, having risen steadily over the last two days from initial single figures.
Officials said improved coordination between emergency services and local authorities meant they were now aware of more people who had not been heard of since the disaster.
"We initially counted only the people who were certain to be missing, such as those witnessed being carried away in gushing water," said a spokesman at Hiroshima prefecture police.
"As we continued to investigate and assess the situation, the number rose," he said.
Firefighters and soldiers were still keeping heavy machinery away from collapsed houses, preferring to remove debris by hand in the hope of finding survivors.
But falling rain was complicating their task in an area where the hillsides are made of decomposed granite -- a coarse sand-like material that is used for driveways and paths, but which occurs naturally in this part of Japan.
Geologists say the rock is so weathered that it easily fractures into smaller chunks and becomes fragile when waterlogged.
Forecaster said heavy rain was expected in the afternoon, bringing with it the risk of further landslides.
Meteorologists said the downpour could continue until Saturday evening, with few breaks.
Heavy rain was also affecting parts of Japan further south.
In Shime town in Fukuoka prefecture, a 21-year-old police officer was swept away in a flooded gutter in the early hours of Thursday while trying to assess road conditions.
His body was found about two hours later in a river, a Fukuoka police spokesman said.
Chikushino city also in Fukuoka issued an evacuation advisory to all its 102,000 residents.
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