Ten people died and at least 20 are missing after heavy rain hit southwestern Japan, particularly in the country's southernmost main island of Kyushu, police and firefighters said.
Most of those killed in the disaster were elderly people who did not manage to leave their houses themselves.
"Unfortunately, we believe the numbers [of dead and missing] will rise as we get more and more information from the field," a Kumamoto spokesman told AFP.
The Japanese Meteorological Agency said in Kumamoto and neighboring Oita prefectures saw “the heaviest rain that [the region] has ever experienced" as hourly rainfalls of 100 millimeters were recorded there.
The town of Aso in Kumamoto was hit by a record 500 millimeters of rain.In neighboring Minami-Aso severe landslides washed away houses. Police said nine people died there. In Taketa City, Oita, a man in his 70s drowned in a swollen river and another man in his 80s is missing, local broadcaster NHK reported.More than 17,000 households in Kumamoto prefecture have been evacuated, while up to 5,000 people were advised to leave the neighboring area. In Oita authorities ordered the evacuation of nearly 15,000 people and advised a further 10,000 to leave.
Local news reports showed cars being dragged into the raging rivers and houses destroyed by landslides.
Pictures of ruined houses, washed roads and cars turned upside down are reminiscent of the devastating tsunami which hit Japan in March 2011, leaving up to 20,000 people dead.
The downpour had weakened by noon local time, allowing rescuers to start cleaning up.
However, a Kumamoto official warned that more rain could possibly descend on the region.
“We are increasing our alert level for rivers overflowing," he said.
The Japanese Meteorological Agency warned of swollen rivers and landslides in other areas of Japan, including western and northeastern regions.
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda promised to provide needed help to all affected residents.
"I have heard that this is a record for heavy rainfall. We will take effective measures," he said in a legislative session.