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Landslides Kill Two in Japan, 17 Missing

July 20, 2003

TOKYO (AP) _ Heavy rains triggered mudslides in southern Japan Sunday, killing at least two people and causing authorities to ask thousands of others to move to safety as a river neared its flood level.

Rain pelted the southern city of Minamata at a rate of up to 2.8 inches per hour, loosening soil and starting mudslides that buried at least a dozen homes in the surrounding hills.

The bodies of two women _ aged 36 and 64 _ were pulled out of one wrecked home, and 17 people were reported missing, said Yoshiaki Takada, a local police officer.

Power shovels dug through mud and debris as rescuers looked for the missing.

Authorities concerned that a river flowing through Minamata could overflow its banks advised all 31,000 inhabitants to consider moving to safe areas, said Yoshiyuki Koguchi, a city official.

At least three people went missing and a highway was blocked following mudslides in two other states on the southern island of Kyushu, media reports said.

The Meteorological Agency issued heavy rain warnings for areas across southern Japan, where a seasonal front brought downpours that began late Friday. More than 10 inches of rain have fallen on Minamata, which is about 550 miles southwest of Tokyo.

Update hourly