'Race Against Time' to Rescue Japan Flood Victims: PM

People look at the swollen Kamo River in central Kyoto western Japan following heavy rain

The death toll has risen to 81 after record torrential rains pummelled wide swathes of Japan since Thursday, triggering landslides and flooding, the media reported on Sunday.

In villages across central and western Japan, trapped residents have been forced to take shelter on their rooftops as floods swirl below.

Evacuation orders remained in place for some 2 million people and another 2.3 million were advised to evacuate, although rain had stopped and floodwaters receded in some areas.

The Japan Meteorological Agency upgraded its alert system to the highest level in large areas of western Japan, while lifting the warning in other regions.

Roads were transformed into muddy flowing rivers, with dirt piled up on either side and stranded cars barely withstanding the current flowing around their wheels.

"The area became an ocean", 82-year-old resident Nobue Kakumoto said yesterday, surveying the scene.

"I'm anxious because I have no idea how long it will stay like this".

In the town of Saka, also in Hiroshima prefecture, Eiichi Tsuiki, a 69-year-old oyster farmer, evacuated to the top floor of his house as rising waters washed away cars outside.

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"I have asked my family to prepare for the worst", said Kosuke Kiyohara, 38, as he waited for word of his sister and her two young sons.

"We are also looking after evacuees and restoring lifeline infrastructure like water and gas", he added.

In neighbouring Okayama prefecture, rescue workers flew in helicopters over areas that are still submerged and otherwise unreachable, looking for signs of life.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 108 people were confirmed dead as of Monday night.

Auto manufacturers Mitsubishi and Mazda were forced to halt production at some factories because they could not get parts or did not want to force employees to travel to work in risky conditions, Kyodo reported.

PM Shinzo Abe said rescuers were "working against time".

About 14.3 inches of rain fell between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.in the city of Uwajima, which is approximately 1.5 times the average monthly rainfall for July.

PHUKET, Thailand - Thailand's government pledged Sunday to ensure justice for Chinese victims of a tour boat that sank last week in a storm off the southern resort island of Phuket, killing 42 people and leaving another 14 missing.

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