Japan landslide: Death toll rises to 39 in Hiroshima

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Heavy rain has hampered rescue operations in Japan’s Hiroshima prefecture where a deadly landslide killed at least 39 people.

The number of people missing has jumped to 51, officials say, after police cross-checked information with fire crews, Kyodo news agency reported.

About 3,000 rescue personnel are working in the area but rain on Thursday night suspended the search.

Torrential rains have led to an evacuation for up to 100,000.

Officials fear that more landslides will occur.

The landslides happened after the equivalent of a month’s rain fell in the 24 hours up to Wednesday morning, Japan’s weather agency said.

Dozens of homes in a residential area close to a mountain on the outskirts of Hiroshima were buried.

The BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes says with the leap in the death toll, the eventual number of victims could be close to 100.

Among those killed was one 53-year old rescue worker who died when a second landslide struck after he had already pulled several people to safety.

Reports said he was killed while holding a toddler he was trying to rescue. A father was handing his small son to the rescue worker only to see both engulfed as a fresh mudslide swept down the mountain.

“There was a really strange smell, a very raw, earthy smell. When we opened a window to see what was going on, the entire hillside just came down, with a crackling noise, a thundering noise,” Reuters cites one woman who survived talking to local television.

She and her husband fled moments before mud gushed through their house leaving boulders where they had been sleeping, Reuters says.

Correspondents add that a number children are thought to have perished in the disaster.

Much of central and southern Japan is mountainous, with many homes nestled into steep slopes.

Last year, a typhoon triggered landslides on Izu Oshima island, south of Tokyo, that left 35 people dead.

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