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Japan reeling from worst flood in decades: ‘We’ve never experienced this kind of rain before’

Rainfall estimate in Japan from July 2 through 9. (NASA)

(This story, originally published Tuesday afternoon, was updated Wednesday morning with updated rainfall totals.)

Up to 70 inches of rain in the last two weeks have led to one of Japan’s worst flooding disasters on record. At least 155 people have died and 50 remain missing from landslides and overflowing rivers that have engulfed towns and neighborhoods.

The death toll in the country is the highest from a flood in more than three decades, the BBC reported, and the floodwaters have forced more than 2 million people from their homes. For perspective, that’s a population equivalent to the city of Houston.

While the rains have relented, they have left behind devastation. “Some homes were smashed. Others were tilting precariously,” reported. “Rivers overflowed, turning towns into lakes, leaving dozens of people stranded on rooftops.”

The World Meteorological Organization said around 10,000 houses were destroyed or inundated.

The most extreme rainfall and flooding concentrated in southwestern Japan in the Okayama prefecture and around Hiroshima. In this area, rainfall rates at times exceeded three inches per hour.

“We’ve never experienced this kind of rain before,” a weather official told the BBC.

Japan’s Shikoku Island was also hit hard. The Associated Press reported that 10.4 inches of rain accumulated in its Kochi Prefecture in just three hours and that landslide warnings were issued for the entire island. In the town of Motoyama, the BBC reported 23 inches fell between Friday and Saturday. From June 28 to July 8, one location in Kochi Prefecture registered more than 70 inches (1,800 mm) of rain.

“Total precipitation at many observation sites reached two- to four times the mean monthly precipitation for July,” the World Meteorological Organization reported.

NASA said deadly rainfall occurred in 13 of Japan’s mainland prefectures.

Residents are struggling to recover in the deluge’s wake.

“Thousands of homes were still without clean water and electricity in Hiroshima and other hard-hit areas,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday, adding that more than 75,000 troops and emergency workers are aiding the response effort.

The torrents can be blamed on tropical moisture streaming north from the tropical Pacific and colliding with a front draped over the country. Climate change also probably played in a role in the intensity of rainfall since warmer air holds more water.

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