At least 15 people are presumed dead and several more are missing after torrential rains pounded southern Japan on Saturday, flooding residential areas, causing mudslides and knocking out power for thousands. Officials asked more than 200,000 people to evacuate.
Fourteen of those found without vital signs were at a nursing home in Kuma village, where water and mud gushed into the building. Japanese medical officials declared that the victims were in "cardio-respiratory arrest" — a term used in Japan before death can be officially certified.
The flooding was centered in the Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures, where the Kuma River overflowed in at least 10 places. The southern island of Kyushu was also hard hit.
Over 33,000 phone lines were disconnected, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone West Corp reported. The nation's top three mobile carriers were all reporting outages. Internet service was also affected.
By evening, the rain had subsided and emergency responders were searching for survivors. At least 10 people were reported missing, and dozens were stranded on rooftops.
"It wasn't like normal rain," one woman told the Japanese news outlet NHK. "I honestly never imagined it could be so powerful."
Japanese weather forecasters had expected heavy rains. The Japan Meteorological Agency issued its highest warning before 5 a.m. Saturday, according to Kyodo News. The agency said the downpour that came was greater than any seen before in the region, the BBC reported. At one point, part of Kumamoto prefecture saw almost 4 inches of rainfall per hour.
"I saw large trees and parts of houses being washed away and heard them crashing into something," Haruka Yamada, 32, told Kyodo News. "The air is filled with the smell of leaking gas and sewage," he said.
Ten thousand members of Japan's defense force were mobilized to assist in rescue efforts, The New York Times reported. More heavy rain is expected through Wednesday.