Tokyo              -         Driving rain hampered the efforts of tens of thousands of rescue workers in southwestern Japan on Monday as they searched for survivors from deadly floods and landslides, with more torrential downpours forecast.

Around 50 people were feared dead after heavy rain lashed areas of western Japan beginning early Saturday, causing rivers to burst their banks and flood low-lying regions. Bad weather was preventing some rescue efforts, local officials said, with at least 13 people still unaccounted for. “Because of the heavy rain, we were forced to cancel some emergency flights of helicopters over the disaster zone,” Tsubasa Miyamoto, an official from the Kumamoto region, told AFP. Although the rain has eased from its peak, the floods washed away roads and bridges, leaving many in isolated communities cut off. A local firefighter in the western region of Kagoshima told AFP they had deployed boats to rescue 11 people, but conditions were making it hard to reach others stranded.

“Calls came from people telling us that they wanted to flee their home but they could not do it on their own,” he said. “Some roads are submerged and you cannot drive through them.”

In one of the hardest-hit areas, residents wrote out the words “rice, water, SOS” on the ground, while others waved towels and called for rescue and relief goods.

At a nursing home for the elderly, 14 people were feared dead when water from a nearby river inundated the ground floor, leaving those in wheelchairs unable to reach higher ground.

Emergency services, aided by locals in rafts, managed to rescue around 50 staff and residents from the facility, bringing them to safety by boat. Heavy rain is expected to continue through Tuesday afternoon and the Japan Meteorological Agency issued a non-compulsory evacuation order for around half a million people in southwestern Japan. Up to 250 millimetres (10 inches) of rain is expected in the 24-hour period through Tuesday morning in the southern part of Kyushu Island, which includes areas already hit hard by the flooding, the agency said.

“It’s such a mess,” resident Hirotoshi Nishi told public broadcaster NHK as he swept debris from his mud-strewn front room. “Many pieces of wood came into my house. I don’t know what to do.” Hirokazu Kosaki, a 75-year-old bus driver in the town of Ashikita, told Jiji press: “It was nothing but water as far as I could see.”