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At least 60 Dead as Rain Continues to Pound Central, Southwestern Japan

A view shows damages after floods caused by torrential rain, in Kumamura, Kumamoto Prefecture, southwestern Japan, July 8, 2020.

Emergency services and military troops in Japan were working Thursday to reach thousands of homes cut off by devastating flooding and landslides that have killed dozens and caused widespread damage in central and southwestern areas of the country.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said rising floodwater on roads damaged by landslides had blocked access to more than 3,000 households, mostly in the hardest-hit Kumamoto Prefecture where fresh downpours were forecast.

Authorities said since Saturday, the torrential rain has left at least 60 people dead across the affected areas.

At a disaster task force meeting Thursday Japan's prime minister, Abe Shinzo, said 130,000 workers are engaged in rescue and relief activities across eight prefectures including Kumamoto, Oita and Gifu. They include police, firefighters, coast guard members and Self-Defense Force personnel.

So far, 59 rivers, including the Kuma River in Kumamoto Prefecture, overflowed, while at least 179 mudslides have occurred in 23 prefectures.

The meteorological agency said “heavy rain will likely continue at least until Sunday in a wide area” of the country, calling for “extreme vigilance” regarding landslides and flooding in low-lying areas.

Complicating rescue efforts has been the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed nearly 1,000 lives in Japan from more than 20,000 cases.

The need to maintain social distancing has reduced capacity at shelters and many people have preferred to take refuge in their vehicles for fear of becoming infected.

Japan is in the middle of its annual rainy season and often sees damaging floods and landslides during this period, which lasts for several weeks.