Search Efforts Resume at Site of Landslide in Nara Prefecture; More Vehicles May be Buried on Highway

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Machinery removes rocks and earth at the site of a landslide on a national highway in Shimokitayama, Nara Prefecture, on Monday.

NARA — Police and rescue workers sped up search efforts on Monday, believing that vehicles may be buried by a landslide that occurred on a national highway in Shimokitayama, Nara Prefecture, on Saturday night.

The Nara prefectural government, which manages that section of national highway, resumed work to remove earth and rocks from the road on Monday morning.

According to police, about 20 to 30 meters of the road was blocked by sediment, which appears to have fallen from a height of more than 5 meters from the slope beside the road.

A man in his 50s from Mie Prefecture was rescued early Sunday morning from the kei car that had been involved. Due to the risk of secondary disaster, the search had been suspended immediately after the man was rescued.

The local fire department said one or more cars might also be buried in the mud because they saw white smoke rising from the collapsed earth and detected a heat source with a thermal camera.

The Yoshino Police Station received a report that a man from Wakayama Prefecture cannot be contacted. Relatives who contacted police said the man was in his 70s and had gone fishing alone. His friend reportedly said, “I was traveling to go fishing via the same national highway, but was blocked by a landslide.” Police are investigating whether this information is related to the man’s missing case.

The Nara prefectural government brought in heavy machinery on Monday morning and began with a work to remove unstable rocks at the roadside slope. Machinery that can be unmanned and remotely controlled is also to be used.

Kyoto University Emeritus Prof. Yuzo Onishi said the landslide may have occurred because the moisture contained in the soil and bedrock has repeatedly frozen and thawed due to changes in temperature, causing the ground to loosen.