Huge floods engulfing parts of southern Japan are reported to have killed at least six people and left hundreds stranded as the torrents swept away roads and houses and destroyed schools.
The Kyodo news agency reported on Thursday that six people had died, with around 20 people still missing after unprecedented torrential rain caused rivers to burst their banks swamping parts of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands.
Hundreds of thousands of people were ordered to flee as soldiers and emergency services battled to reach people cut off by torrents of swirling water or threatened by landslides.
"We are in an extremely serious situation," Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso said, warning of the danger of collapsing hillsides and adding "many people are still missing".
More than 50 centimetres (20 inches) of rain fell over 12 hours on Wednesday, the meteorological agency said, with downpours expected to continue through Friday, as the region grapples with the aftermath of a typhoon that ravaged the country this week.
Authorities lifted "special" heavy rain warnings for the hardest hit prefectures of Fukuoka and Oita, although other warnings for rain, landslides and flooding remained in place.
Four people died in the city of Asakura in Fukuoka prefecture, Kyodo said, while a further two died in Hita in Oita prefecture. Hundreds were believed to be in areas cut off by damaged roads.
Japan is deploying 7,800 police, rescue personnel and troops in affected areas of Kyushu, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, telling reporters that "there are about 20 people who are unaccounted for".
Those included a child reportedly carried off by a fast-flowing river and a couple who had not been seen since their house was swept away.
'Hang in there!'
Television footage showed rolling waves from swollen rivers hitting residential areas, tearing up roads and inundating farmland.
Asakura was among the hardest hit with footage showing floodwaters surging through the streets.
Ryoichi Nishioka, who grows flowers in the city, said he tried to save them from damage amid fast rising waters the night before.
"I tried to protect them by covering them up but couldn't make it," he told AFP. "Then the swirling water flooded this area and swept away the greenhouses."
Nishioka, 67, also described helping a man who clung to an electric pole as muddy waters rampaged through the area on Wednesday night.
"We had a blackout, so I used a flashlight from the second floor and shined light for him," he said. "I was calling out to encourage him for three hours from 9pm to midnight.
"I shouted: 'Hang in there!'" The man was ultimately rescued, Nishioka said.
An elderly man in the hard-hit Haki district of Asakura told NHK how furniture bobbed in the flood waters that inundated his home.
"I dodged them and escaped in a gush of water," he said.
A railroad bridge has been destroyed by the raging Kagetsu river, disrupting train services, a railway spokesman said.
Several other train lines were also forced to delay or stop operations due to heavy rains, while local officials called off classes at primary and middle schools.