PM Abe meets rain disaster survivors, pledges more aid

Abe (centre) inspects a flood-hit area in the city of Seiyo, Ehime prefecture. — AFP photo

TOKYO: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met yesterday with survivors of devastating rains that killed at least 204 people in flash flooding and landslides, as the government pledged more aid.

The toll from the record rainfall has continued to rise, as rescue workers dig through the debris and find the remains of dozens of people reported missing.

Top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said yesterday that the toll was now 204 dead, with 28 people still missing.

Around 73,000 rescue workers including police and troops “are working as hard as they can, with the priority on saving lives”, he said.

Abe, who earlier this week cancelled a foreign tour, travelled for a second time to areas hit by the disaster. Television footage showed him visiting Seiyo in Ehime prefecture, where he visited homes damaged in the disaster and talked to residents trying to clean up.

Local residents pile up household waste, caused by a flooding, at a temporary waste-collection point at Mabi Clean Center in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture. — Reuters photo

At a meeting with the government’s taskforce on the disaster, Abe pledged new assistance. The government has already said it will tap around US$18 million in reserve funds from this year’s budget, and Abe said US$312 million in tax grants would be disbursed early to local governments in affected areas.

“I want local governments in disaster-hit areas to do all they can for emergency assistance and reconstruction, without hesitating to spend,” he said.

The financial cost of the disaster is still being calculated, but the agriculture ministry said it has assessed losses of at least US$207 million. That figure is likely to rise further as clean-up operations continue and the scale of the damage becomes clear. — AFP

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