TOKYO (AP) – Rescue workers and Japanese troops waded through sludge early Friday to search for victims of mudslides in Japan’s deadliest typhoon in over a decade that ripped across the country, killing 67 and leaving 21 missing.

Typhoon Tokage, the record eighth typhoon to hit Japan this year, unleashed towering waves and rapid mudslides that demolished homes and flooded dozens of communities when the storm slammed into western Japan Wednesday.

Tokage, which means lizard in Japanese, headed east into the Pacific Ocean Thursday after losing power, leaving clear blue skies in its wake and rescue workers combing the sea for victims feared washed away in the typhoon.

Tsutomu Mukai on the small island of Awaji 279 miles west of Tokyo said a mudslide buried his home and killed his 72-year old mother.

“We panicked. We had no time to escape,” Mukai, 50, told broadcaster TV Asahi. “I called out, ‘Mother, are you alive?,’ but there was no answer.”

Powerful gusts uprooted huge trees, flash floods submerged cars to their windows and entire hillsides crumbled in landslides across southern and central Japan. Delivery trucks, tipped over by winds, lay on their sides.

By Friday morning, the death toll had risen to 67, and 21 others were still unaccounted for, the National Police Agency said. Injuries totaled 281.

Crews rescued a tour group of 36 senior citizens and their bus driver early Thursday after a river overflowed and flash floods nearly submerged their bus in the city of Maizuru in Kyoto prefecture, or state. The group spent the night on the roof of the bus as fast-moving waters delayed help.

“We called to one another to keep moving and to stay awake,” one unidentified passenger told public broadcaster NHK. “I was so relieved when the lifeboat came.”

Nationwide, more than 23,210 homes were flooded and hundreds of others ripped apart or buried, Fire and Disaster Management Agency spokesman Hideyuki Aoki said. More than 13,000 people across the country were staying at temporary shelters, officials said.

Workers in southwestern Okayama prefecture found the bodies of elderly people – a couple in their 80s and two others, aged 76 and 83 – who had been among the missing after a mudslide buried homes, prefectural government spokesman Tatsuya Sugita said.

A landslide in western Kyoto prefecture left two elderly women – aged 72 and 79 – dead in their homes, police spokesman Chibana said. A 70-year-old man living in the same village had drowned, he said.

The last time storms killed more people was in September 1988, when 84 died in a nearly continuous two-week spell of typhoons, Fire and Disaster Management Agency spokesman Yoshikazu Nishiwaki said.

Japan had just been recovering from Typhoon Ma-on, which killed six people earlier this month, when Tokage hit. The country suffered 22 deaths from Typhoon Meari in late September.

This year’s typhoons have far outstripped the previous post-World War II record of six, set in 1990. The storms have left nearly 220 people dead or missing, the largest casualty tally since 1983.

Monetary damage from the storms and other natural disasters this year reached an estimated $6.72 billion in mid-October, Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki told a parliamentary committee Thursday.

AP-ES-10-21-04 2245EDT



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