Japan's flood victims begin clean-up

Flood victims in Japan began a full-scale clean-up operation Monday after record rainfall forced hundreds of thousands to flee and left at least 32 dead or missing.

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.

Four days of torrential rainfall wrought devastation in the southwestern Japanese island of Kyushu, with rivers bursting their banks, and muddy water destroying or inundating houses.

Electricity remained cut off to some 2,600 houses in northern Kyushu, according to Kyushu Electric Power Co., while local governments sent emergency response teams to villagers isolated by landslides.

Troops were called in Sunday to airlift supplies to those cut off, while local authorities dispatched rescue helicopters to ferry the elderly to hospital.

The death toll from landslides and floods rose to 27 Monday afternoon as the body of a 57-year-old man was recovered in Aso, Kumamoto prefecture, central Kyushu, officials said.

Rescuers continued searching for five missing people.

Television footage showed rescue divers searching a river, while troops looking for bodies scoured flooded rice fields.

"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."

The meteorological agency said rains had eased but warned further downpours in northern Kyushu on Monday could trigger more landslides.

Light rainfall was recorded in northern Kyushu Monday morning but there were no immediate reports of further damage.

Most of the 400,000 people who were ordered or advised to evacuate their homes on the island were allowed to return home after authorities began lifting evacuation orders Sunday. But 6,000 were still under instructions to stay away.

In Yame, a mountainous area of Kyushu's Fukuoka prefecture, 5,000 people had been isolated by landslides, but just 82 remained cut off Monday, officials said.

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, where at least 19 people were killed and three others were still missing.

There was also heavy rain on Sunday in Kyoto -- 500 kilometres (310 miles) east of the affected areas in Kyushu -- where about 20 people were temporarily trapped after a stream broke its banks.

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