At least 16 people have died after torrential rains in Japan triggered massive floods and mudslides, local media said Sunday, as rescue workers sifted through debris in search of a dozen missing.
The floods in the Kumamoto region on the southwestern island of Kyushu have destroyed houses, swept vehicles and collapsed bridges, leaving many cities under water and communities cut off.
More than 200,000 people have been ordered to evacuate as authorities urge those in emergency shelters to wash their hands and maintain a social distance to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
"We will do our utmost to prevent spread the infection and make life for those who have to flee their home as comfortable as possible, "Disaster Management Minister Ryota Takeda told reporters after visiting a high school in Hitoyoshi city where 600 residents are in shelter.
In addition to the 16 dead, the national broadcaster NHK said that another 20 were in a state of "cardiac respiratory arrest", a term often used in Japan before a physician officially confirms the death.
They include 14 residents of a nursing home that was flooded after a nearby river broke the shore on Saturday.
Officials of the regional authorities and municipal offices, who have been directly affected by the disaster, could not immediately confirm the reported deaths .
Communities along the Kuma River, passing through Hitoyoshi, have been hit hard by the floodwaters.
Although the rain had eased in Kumamoto on Sunday morning, bridges collapsed and blocked roads due to flooding and mud. many isolated in the region.
Rescue workers and troops from the Self-Defense Force used boats and helicopters to reach them.
More rain was expected Sunday night.
A large "SOS" sign was created on the grounds of what used to be a Yatsushiro ci ty elementary school, where about 10 people waved white towels for rescue and media helicopters.