By Linda Bordoni
It’s Japan’s worst weather disaster in 36 years. Alongside the spiraling death toll from the torrential downpours, floods and landslides which struck parts of central and western regions almost a week, some five million people have been forced to evacuate and millions remain displaced.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who cancelled an overseas trip to deal with the disaster, on Wednesday observed damage from a helicopter flying over Okayama, one of the hardest-hit areas and then visited a crowded evacuation centre.
He told reporters the government would do everything it could to help the survivors.
Meanwhile rescuers continued to work under a scorching sun combing through heaps of wood and thickly caked mud in a search for bodies, helped by sniffer dogs.
With temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius or higher in some devastated areas attention turned to preventing heat-stroke among rescue workers and in evacuation centres where thousands have sought shelter.
Officials turned to social media to warn of the additional danger of food-borne illnesses, urging people to wash their hands and take other measures against food poisoning, while water accumulating behind piles of debris blocking rivers also posed a danger after a swollen river rushed into a Fukuyama residential area this week prompting more evacuation orders.
The intensifying heat was expected to trigger thunderstorms on Wednesday, with authorities warning new landslides could be set off on mountainsides saturated with water.
Pope Francis has sent a message of condolences to those affected by the floods and of encouragement to civil authorities and rescue workers.