© Geospatial Information Authority of Japan
A week of torrential rain pounded southwestern and central Japan, triggering severe flooding and landslides that have killed at least 68 people in the region. Kumamoto prefecture in Japan's southern island of Kyushu has been hardest hit, and over the weekend residents braced for more extreme weather. On Saturday some areas observed more than 80 millimeters of rainfall per hour and 1,000 mm over three consecutive days. Strong winds, lightning, and tornadoes were also added to the weather warning. The Ministry of Land reported 282 mudslide disasters across 27 prefectures with the largest number, 52, in Kumamoto prefecture.

Eastern and western Japan are on high alert for heavy 24-hour downpours with a risk that rivers in Iwate and Aomori could overflow. New mudslide warnings have also been issued for Kyushu as past rain loosens the ground and damaged river levees inundate low-lying areas.

Residents have been urged to secure their safety, with authorities stressing that conditions can suddenly deteriorate with the stopping and starting of heavy rains. As of Saturday, 2,909 people were staying in evacuation shelters across eight prefectures. On Kyushu Island, 283 people in Kumamoto were trapped after roads were damaged.

On Saturday local authorities warned that the water level of the Kuma River, which stretches across Kumamoto prefecture, was rapidly rising and the river was at risk of bursting its banks again. On July 4, the Kuma River overflowed in seven locations, with rapid flooding trapping some 3,000 households. Disaster-affected communities in mountainous areas were cut off due to collapsed roads and highways and large debris which caused disruptions to phone lines. Floodwaters reportedly reached as high as 4.3 meters in some areas, damaging about 10,000 homes and also washing away cars, railway lines, and a bridge.

Japan's Meteorological Agency says the atmospheric conditions remain unstable over a wide area from western Japan to Tohoku as a result of an active weather front and low pressure system extending over the East China Sea to the Sea of Japan. Local heavy rains are expected to continue for 12 to 15 days.

Search and rescue efforts for 13 missing people, mainly in Kumamoto, are being hampered by intermittent heavy rains. Bad weather has delayed helicopter aerial searches as well the construction of temporary individual emergency shelters. Volunteers who arrived to help with the clean up of damaged houses were sent home after locals in Hitoyoshi city were ordered to evacuate via radio. Despite that, Japan's disaster management minister made a public appeal for volunteers, saying the COVID-19 pandemic has affected recruitment numbers.