Tokyo, July 8

The death toll due to torrential rains lashing the southwestern Japanese island of Kyushu rose to 16 on Saturday.

Operations were stepped up on Saturday to rescue the residents trapped in Toho village in Fukuoka before the expiry of the 72-hour deadline since the start of the floods on Thursday.

Fearing landslides and floods, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) has maintained a high alert in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures - the two worst-hit by the disaster - and in parts of Kyushu amid forecasts of fresh rainfall.

The bodies of the latest two victims swept away by rising rivers and floodwaters caused by the rain were found along the coast of Saga prefecture.

Around 12,000 army, fire and police personnel are engaged in search and rescue operations to locate the 15 people who remain missing in Fukuoka and Oita prefectures, Efe news quoted Japanese government spokesperson Yoshihide Suga as saying at a press conference.

According to data from the JMA, rain on the island of Kyushu has exceeded 120 mm, while the prefectures of Fukuoka and Oita on Thursday received more than 540 mm of rain - 1.5 times higher than the average rainfall recorded in July.

Following the destruction of houses, roads, vehicles, railways and bridges due to floods, the JMA has warned that this year's heavy rains are one of Japan's biggest natural disasters in recent decades.

However, some parts of the expressways in Kyushu, which had been blocked or closed to traffic due to the disaster, have been reopened, according to West Nippon Expressway, which operates the expressways, the report said.

The authorities here have since Wednesday recommended the evacuation of close to five lakh people while 1,022 people have been rescued so far, according to government data.

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