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Natural disasters

More feared dead in southwest Japan floods, 25 fatalities so far

Some 1,500 people evacuate amid mudslides, power outages in Kyushu

Torrential rains have destroyed roads and bridges along rivers in Kumamoto Prefecture. (Photo by Shinya Sawai) 

KUMAMOTO, Japan (Kyodo) -- Flood-ravaged Kumamoto Prefecture saw more rain on Monday as search and rescue efforts for those missing following the weekend's deluge continued in the southwestern Japan prefecture.

Twenty five people have already been confirmed dead and 17 others are feared dead, while 11 people remain unaccounted for after torrential rain struck the area early Saturday, according to local authorities.

Some 1,500 people had taken shelter at 86 evacuation centers across the prefecture as of Sunday afternoon as the downpour caused mudslides and floods, severing roads and leaving many houses without water or power.

"The water level of rivers suddenly rose in the Saturday rain. I am worried because I don't know how the rain is today," said Shoko Matsunaga, 49, who has been staying at an evacuation center in Ashikita since Sunday evening with her 2-year-old grandchild.

Given the risk of the novel coronavirus spreading, the evacuation centers have taken precautionary measures to avoid crowding and close contact of people in confined spaces, while readying sanitizers and checking the temperatures of people who seek shelter.

"It is important not to let people bring in the novel coronavirus," said Yatsushiro city official Hideki Motomura, 48, who is working at an evacuation center in Yatsushiro, serving more than 100 people.

A local fire department said 69 people had turned up at its headquarters located on higher ground, but officials asked some to move to other evacuation centers to avoid crowding.

"We had capacity for 60 evacuees here in the past. But considering social distancing, 30 is appropriate this time, so we had to ask some evacuees to move to another shelter," said Toshihiko Nakamura, an official of the fire department.

Some evacuees have opted to stay inside their vehicles for fear of becoming infected with the virus, so they have been told to register with an evacuation center and handed leaflets on how to avoid economy class syndrome, in which people develop blood clots from staying in the same position for a long time.

At one evacuation center in Amakusa, a person thought to have the coronavirus was told to go to another evacuation center so they could self-isolate in a single room.

Some 100 evacuation centers opened in Kagoshima, Kagoshima Prefecture, where rooms are periodically ventilated and people are asked to social distance.

The city said the number of people at each center was relatively small as it had notified its residents since June to check the safety of their homes and consider evacuating to the homes of relatives or friends in times of disasters to reduce the risk of infection at shelters.

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