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Deploying drones, Japanese government hurries flood recovery

Some factories and stores resume operations

The Japanese government is working to take stock of the damage caused by torrential rain that hit majors cities like Hiroshima with such cutting-edge technology as drones.

TOKYO -- The Japanese government is moving quickly to rebuild areas devastated by torrential rain in the western part of the country, using drones to survey the damage and consulting experts on levee reconstruction.

Restoring crippled infrastructure is crucial for relief efforts, but resuming rail services and reopening roads remain a challenge given the vast scope of the flooding.

Representatives from government ministries gathered at the Prime Minister's Office on Tuesday to discuss measures to support the victims. Officials agreed to secure shelters and temporary housing, as well as to send items such as underwear and portable toilets to the affected areas.

Large fans and cooling devices are also to be sent as Japan enters one of the hottest periods of the year.

The record downpour has killed 157 people in 12 prefectures as of Tuesday, with more than 50 missing. Fresh flooding in Hiroshima Prefecture and mudslides in certain areas have complicated the search for survivors.

The transport ministry's Kyushu region bureau dispatched its drone team to assess the situation in Ehime and Kochi prefectures. Drones will survey such inaccessible areas as collapsed mountainsides and flooded rivers and provide data for reconstruction plans.

The Self-Defense Forces sent a transport ship carrying seven tank lorries to Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, where more than 20 of its 30 gas stations have empty tanks.

Railways in the city were shut down while the national highway and local bypasses were blocked by landslides and flooding. Although prefectural roads were passable, traffic was at a standstill for a time, leaving about 220,000 people in isolation.

A total of 11 train operators, both passenger and freight, have completely or partially suspended operations along 29 lines. There are also closures on sections of eight highways.

There are some signs of recovery, however, as businesses also try to cope with the damage. A Kewpie subsidiary decided Tuesday to restart operations at its jam factory in Hiroshima Prefecture, for instance. Retailer Aeon also reopened some stores in the area.

Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus will also resume work at its Kawasaki city factory in Kanagawa Prefecture. The automaker was forced to shut down the facility through Tuesday since its component suppliers are in Okayama Prefecture, but it will procure parts from its inventory or other suppliers. The company will reassess the situation after Friday.

Water outages, however, are taking their toll on more companies. Dai Nippon Printing had to suspend operations at its Hiroshima Prefecture factory as of Tuesday and is unsure of when it will resume since industrial water supplies are shut off. The plant makes anti-reflective film used in liquid crystal displays, for which Dai Nippon controls roughly 70% of the global market share.

Panasonic shut down a factory that produces professional-use cameras in Okayama Prefecture Tuesday to begin repair work. It does not expect to restart operations for at least a week as flooding has damaged power generators.

Mazda Motor also decided Wednesday that it would postpone resuming operations. Not only are transportation networks in chaos, but the automaker must also ensure the safety of workers and the procurement of parts, among other challenges.

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