TOKYO - The death toll from unprecedented rains in Japan rose to at least 64 on Sunday after rivers burst their banks and forced several million people from their homes, media reports said, with more rain set to hit some areas for at least another day.
Torrential rains pounded some parts of western Japan with three times the usual precipitation for a normal July and set off landslides and sent rivers surging over their banks, trapping many people in their houses or on rooftops.
"We've never experienced this kind of rain before," an official at the Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) told a news conference. "This is a situation of extreme danger."
At least 64 people were killed and 44 missing, national broadcaster NHK said after the death toll had been put at 49 overnight. Among the missing was a 9-year-old boy believed trapped in his house by a landslide that killed at least three others, one of them a man in his 80s.
"All I have is what I'm wearing," a rescued woman clutching a toy poodle told NHK television.
"We had fled to the second floor but then the water rose more, so we went up to the third floor," she said.
Japan's government set up an emergency management centre at the prime minister's office and some 54,000 rescuers from the military, police and fire departments were dispatched across a wide swath of southwestern and western Japan.
"There are still many people missing and others in need of help, we are working against time," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.
Emergency warnings for severe rain remained in effect for three prefectures, with 300 mm (11 inches) predicted to fall by Monday morning in parts of the smallest main island of Shikoku.
Evacuation orders remained in place for some 2 million people and another 2.3 million were advised to evacuate, although rain had stopped and floodwaters receded in some areas. Landslide warnings were issued in more than a quarter of the nation's prefectures.