Japanese authorities have issued evacuation orders for more than 1mn people as heavy rain hits southern parts of the country, a year after deadly floods that killed over 200 people.
Small landslides were already being reported in parts of the affected area, public broadcaster NHK reported.
It said a total of 1.12mn people in Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures had been ordered to evacuate to shelters, and that landslides had swept away several cars and buried a house in Kagoshima.
No injuries have so far been reported, and there were no official details yet on how many people had heeded the warnings to leave their homes.
The evacuation order is issued when a natural disaster is highly likely to occur and municipalities repeatedly urge residents to evacuate, although the instruction is frequently ignored.
It is the most serious warning issued before a disaster actually occurs. The scale’s highest level is activated once a disaster is declared and orders people to take measures to protect their lives.
Some 868,000 people in Kagoshima, Kumamoto and Miyazaki prefectures are under a lower-level warning advising them to evacuate, according to NHK.
The Japan Meteorological Agency has warned that life-threatening landslides are possible at any time in parts of Kagoshima, adding heavy rain will continue overnight.
“If torrential downpours continue for hours in the same region, we might issue the special rain warning,” which is the highest level warning indicating a disaster has occurred, agency official Ryuta Kurora told reporters.
“It will be too late to evacuate after the warning is issued,” he warned. “Evacuate early without waiting for it,” he added.
Kagoshima Governor Satoshi Mitazono said in a message to residents that the situation was “extremely dangerous”.
“A major disaster could happen anywhere, any time,” he said, adding that he has requested help from Japan’s Self Defence Forces.
Japanese authorities are urging people to take shelter early after disastrous heavy rains last summer in the west of the country that killed more than 200 people.
Many of the deaths were blamed on the fact that evacuation orders were issued too late and some people failed to heed them.
Entire neighbourhoods were buried beneath landslides or submerged in flood waters during the disasters.
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