Kurashiki, Japan, July 11 (TNS):Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe headed Wednesday to one of the areas worst-hit by record rains as the death toll rose to 179 and thousands of evacuees remained stranded in shelters.
Abe, who cancelled a four-stop foreign trip planned for this week as the disaster worsened, was due to visit the flood-ravaged Okayama area to see the scale of the damage first-hand.
With dozens reportedly still missing, the toll from the worst weather-related disaster in Japan in over three decades is expected to rise further.
Rescue workers on Wednesday were still digging through the aftermath of flash floods and landslides that swallowed whole neighbourhoods, but hopes were fading that any new survivors could be found.
Abe was scheduled to fly over the Mabi district to view the damage, and meet with evacuees and local officials to discuss their needs.
Over 10,000 people were still in shelters across large parts of central and western Japan, local media said, including at a school in the town of Kurashiki in Okayama prefecture.
Around 300 people spent the night at the Okada Elementary School, many of them sleeping on blue mats laid out in the school’s gym.
Hiroko Fukuda, 40, was there was with her husband, but they had sent her young daughter to stay with relatives after she became so distressed by the evacuation that she stopped eating.
The family fled their home on Friday night, and returned Monday to discover the entire ground floor had been submerged beneath floodwaters that ruined everything from electronics to photos.
“We can accept losing things like home appliances, but memories,” she said, her voice trailing off.
“We can’t get back photos of her at three years old,” she said of her daughter.
“It hurts that our memories are gone.”
Among the things ruined by the flooding were Fukuda’s kimonos, including a “furisode” worn on special occasions.
“I had wanted my daughter to wear it,” Fukuda said, her eyes filling with tears.