Police officers search for missing residents in a mud and rubble-covered residential area following a massive landslide in Hiroshima, western Japan, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. Japanese police said rain-triggered landslides on the outskirts of Hiroshima city killed more than 30 people on Thursday with more than 50 people still missing, as search efforts continued in the devastated area. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT
Japan Ground Self Defense Force personnel search for missing residents in a mud-ridden residential area following a massive landslide in Hiroshima, western Japan, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. Rain-sodden slopes collapsed in torrents of mud, rock and debris Wednesday on the outskirts of Hiroshima city, killing more than 30 people and leaving a several missing, Japanese police said. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) JAPAN OUT
TOKYO — Japanese police said the death toll from rain-triggered landslides on the outskirts of Hiroshima city rose to 39 on Thursday with 51 people still missing, as search efforts continued in the devastated area.
Hillsides caved in or were swept down into residential areas in at least five valleys in the suburbs of the western Japanese city on Wednesday, crushing dozens of houses after heavy rains.
Hiroshima prefectural police said 39 people were confirmed dead and 51 others were missing as of midday Thursday. The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 23 people were injured, 13 seriously. A police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with official policy, said there was a possibility of some inaccuracies in the tally.
About 2,500 police and military personnel searched for the missing in the mud-covered areas.
Hiroshima city officials have faced criticism because their initial evacuation advisory came an hour after the first mudslide. Officials said their response was delayed because the land collapsed so quickly at multiple locations.
Landslides are a constant risk in mountainous, crowded Japan, where many homes are built on or near steep slopes. Torrential rains early Wednesday apparently caused slopes to collapse in areas where many of the buildings were newly constructed.
Hiroshima's geology, consisting of highly water-retentive soil, makes the city particularly prone to such disasters, experts say.