An overwhelming mudslide that took down dozens of houses and buildings in a town southwest of Tokyo on Saturday has left an estimated 19 people missing, with the possibility of dozens of others unaccounted for as officials continue their investigation.
CNN had reported that authorities said two people were thought to have been killed in the mudslide, which occurred around 10:30 a.m. local time following heavy rain in the area surrounding the seaside city of Atami this week.
However, The Associated Press reported that Gov. Heita Kawakatsu of Shizuoka prefecture, where Atami is located, said that authorities have not officially confirmed the deaths of the two individuals who were washed into the sea by the mudslide.
A local Fire and Disaster Management Agency official who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity, citing Japanese policies prohibiting him from speaking publicly, said that while nearly 20 people were still unaccounted for, as many as 100 people could still be missing, as officials are gathering more details on the destruction.
Japan public broadcaster NHK initially had the number of people missing at 20, and Shizuoka spokesman Takamichi Sugiyama said that at least 19 have been confirmed missing.
Videos posted to social media showed a heavy wave of dark waters racing down hills in the town, covering cars, houses and other local structures.
The official who spoke to the AP said that at least 80 local homes were completely buried in the mudslide.
Footage recorded in the aftermath of the disaster showed homes destroyed and sunk beneath high levels of mud, with NHK video showing part of a bridge in Atami collapsed.
#BREAKING: There are fears for at least 19 people currently missing after a mudslide hit homes in Atami, Japan, west of Tokyo.— 10 News First (@10NewsFirst) July 3, 2021
Rescue workers are currently underway to search for the missing people . pic.twitter.com/WP1qxtqLdN
AFTERMATH: Video shows scene in Atami, Japan, where a powerful mudslide carrying a deluge of black water and debris crashed into rows of houses following heavy rains, leaving at least 19 people missing. https://t.co/jYXJCjPpUw pic.twitter.com/LC78TYzgs3— ABC News (@ABC) July 3, 2021
Kawakatsu told reporters Saturday, “I offer my deepest condolences to everyone who has suffered,” according to the AP.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga sent out a tweet expressing his support for those impacted by the disaster, adding that members of Japanese police forces, the country’s coast guard and other first responders were being sent to aid in search and rescue efforts.
The AP reported that evacuation orders have been issued in the area, including the highest "Level 5 alert" sent out for a region impacting more than 35,000 people.
Kawakatsu said that more rain could be expected, with the possibility of more landslides in the coming days, according to CNN.
"There are many places where the ground is loose, so please evacuate from dangerous places, listen to information from the city and town, and make sure you and your family are safe,” he said.