Tens of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate their residences in the Kumamoto and Oita prefectures, located on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, AFP reported on Thursday.
The two neighboring prefectures, which have registered record-level rainfall among the areas struck by the severe downpour, are threatened by swollen rivers and mudslides.
“Particularly in Kumamoto and Oita prefectures, we are seeing the heaviest rain that [the region] has ever experienced,” Japan Meteorological Agency said.
“Unfortunately, we believe the numbers [of the dead and the missing] will rise as we get more and more information from the field,” a Kumamoto official said.
Most of the dead were reportedly elderly people in their 70s and 80s, who had been trapped in their homes.
Emergency workers and government troops have been sent to the island to help with the rescue operations.
“We may get more rain later and we are increasing our alert level for rivers overflowing,” another Kumamoto official said.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda promised full relief efforts to the victims of the disaster.
“I have heard that this is a record for heavy rainfall. We will take effective measures,” he said at a legislative session.