YAME, Japan (AFP)
Heavy rain again lashed southwest Japan on Monday, triggering fears of more landslides and hampering the clean-up operation after a record deluge that left at least 32 people dead or missing.
Four days of torrential rain have fallen on Kyushu island, causing rivers to burst their banks, the muddy floodwaters destroying or inundating houses. Troops were called in Sunday to airlift supplies to those stranded.
Electricity remained cut off to 2,100 houses in the northern part of Kyushu, according to Kyushu Electric Power Co., while local governments rushed out emergency response teams to villagers isolated by landslides.
Helicopters had been dispatched to rescue the elderly.
But efforts to restore electricity and normality faced difficulties with the arrival Monday of yet further relentless rain. The meteorological agency warned of more landslides if the rain did not stop.
There is also the threat of a typhoon that is over the Pacific and projected to head towards southwest Japan.
"We are stepping up efforts to remove rubble as roads remain covered with mud at many points," Masatatsu Minoda, an official from Kyushu's Kumamoto prefecture, told AFP by phone.
"Workers are engaged in clean-up efforts while taking care against possible further landslides. We may have to stop working if it rains heavily again."
Most of the 400,000 people who were ordered or advised to evacuate their homes were allowed to return after authorities began lifting evacuation orders Sunday. But 6,000 were still under instructions to stay away.
In Yame city, a mountainous area of Fukuoka prefecture, official Takashi Yamaguchi said: "We are calling on our residents to be vigilant and go to shelter if necessary as a fresh heavy rain warning was just issued."
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told a television interview that the government was ready to take "swift measures" to help victims recover from the disaster.
Rainfall of up to 81.7 centimetres (32.2 inches) has been recorded in hardest-hit Aso, situated at the foot of a volcano in Kumamoto.
The death toll from landslides and floods rose to 28 Monday afternoon as the bodies of two men aged 30 and 57 were recovered separately, while rescuers continued searching for four missing people.
Television footage showed rescue divers searching a river, while troops looking for bodies scoured flooded rice fields.
Residents together with volunteers and local government officials shovelled mud and moved damaged furniture from their homes, while mechanical diggers removed fallen trees and debris from the roads.