14 07 2004

N. Japan Flooding Forces 20,000 to Flee

Japan Self-Defense Forces member carries a resident through a flooded street as the residents are transferred from a flooded shelter in Nagaoka, northern Japan Wednesday, July 14, 2004. Torrential rains and flooding in northwestern Japan killed at least five people and forced the evacuation of thousands of people, officials said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)
TOKYO - Torrential rains and flooding in northern Japan killed at least six people, injured several more and forced nearly 20,000 others to evacuate to higher ground, officials said Wednesday. Four people were missing.

At the epicenter of the flooding, in Tochio, 135 miles northwest of Tokyo, 17 inches of rain had fallen in two days.

Authorities broadened an evacuation order to 19,788 households late Wednesday, mostly in the city of Sanjo, north of Tochio.

Some 22,300 homes had been flooded, including 14,760 in Sanjo, where the fast-flowing waters of the Ikarashi River broke through a stone-and-dirt embankment in several areas. Dozens of schools were closed.

The Self-Defense Forces dispatched some 300 troops to help with rescue and cleanup, while military helicopters airlifted about 451 people from the rooftops of homes and schools, public broadcaster NHK reported.

More than 4,000 homes were still without power as of late Wednesday, and many were without telephone service after underground connections were severed, said Tohoku Electric Power Co. spokesman Junji Ishiguro.

Officials said an estimate of the flooding damage hadn't been tallied yet.

In areas where the waters had receded, people swept thick mud from sidewalks and streets and cleared waterlogged and muddy clothes and furniture from their homes.

While rain had let up in some places, more was forecast for Thursday.

The dead were elderly: four women in their 70s, a man in his 70s and one in his 80s, Fire and Disaster Management Agency spokesman Koki Sasaki said. A 68-year-old woman broke her arm in the flooding.

Sasaki said four others were missing, including a 75-year-old man last seen in his rice fields on Tuesday and a 72-year-old woman who witnesses said was washed away in an irrigation channel.

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