Death toll in wake of torrential rain reaches 148 in Japan, dozens still missing as gov't steps up efforts

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who canceled his trip to Europe and the Middle East to attend to the disaster.

Residents walk around a flood hit area in Kurashiki city, Okayama prefecture on July 9, 2018.

The death toll in the wake of torrential rainfall causing flooding and landslides in western Japan reached 148 people, officials said Tuesday.

The government and local municipalities have stepped up search and rescue efforts to find 59 people that are still unaccounted for in areas including Hiroshima Prefecture where 55 people have been reported dead.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who canceled his trip to Europe and the Middle East to attend to the disaster, told a meeting of the government's crisis response unit that reserve funds would be made available before requests came in from local governments.

"We will assess the needs of victims and push for quick reconstruction," the prime minister said.

Japan's top government spokesperson Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press briefing on the matter that the government is likely to tap into reserve funds of about 2 billion yen (18 million U.S. dollars) to help deal with the disaster's aftereffects.

But farm minister Ken Saito said that damages caused to agriculture, including mountain forests, paddy fields and reservoirs, had already topped 7 billion yen (63 million U.S. dollars).

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said that as of Tuesday morning, 347 homes have been partially or completely destroyed by the downpours or in landslides and 9,868 homes have been flooded.

The extent of the damage is likely to rise significantly, the agency said, as many municipalities have yet to report the full extent of the damage.

Abe also said that to combat food and water shortages in some of the disaster areas, trucks carrying food and water stocks to retail stores, including convenience stores, will be considered emergency vehicles.

The health ministry said that as of Tuesday morning, nearly 300,000 homes spanning 12 prefectures in western Japan were still without water supply.

To safeguard their workers, some major businesses in the disaster-hit regions have halted production, including at Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and at a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corp.

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