TOKYO — At least 19 people were missing on Saturday after heavy rainfall caused a mudslide that washed away homes and covered roads in debris in a resort town about 60 miles southwest of Tokyo, Japanese officials said.
Police, fire and military personnel had begun a search-and-rescue effort in and around the coastal town, Atami, and the Japanese Coast Guard was also called in to help after a torrent of mud and debris tumbled down hillsides and into the ocean.
An official in charge of mudslides in Shizuoka Prefecture, which includes Atami, said that “the safety of 19 people is unknown.” About 2,800 homes in Atami had lost power as of Saturday afternoon, according to the Tokyo Electric Power Company.
Atami, a town of about 35,000 known for its natural hot springs, warned residents to protect themselves from “life threatening” conditions after 12.4 inches of rain fell in a 48-hour period — 30 percent more than the area’s average rainfall for the entire month of July.
The Japan Meteorological Agency called on the public to exercise extreme caution after dozens of cities and towns surrounding Tokyo set new rainfall records over the past two days.
The heavy seasonal rains also disrupted train service and prompted evacuation orders in several towns south of Tokyo. In Hiratsuka, a city of more than 250,000, the authorities ordered most residents to leave on Saturday morning because of concerns about flash flooding.
Yoshiharu Ishikawa, an expert on mudslides at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, said that regardless of whether the rainfall eased in the coming days, the accumulation of water in the ground would continue to pose hazards in the region, which is crisscrossed by hills and valleys.
“Even if the rain weakens, the risk of landslide disasters is immediate,” he told the Japanese broadcaster NHK.
Hikari Hida reported from Tokyo, and Shashank Bengali from Singapore.