Rescuers search the mud for survivors “washed away” in Hiroshima, with officials warning there could be more to come.
At least 36 people have died and up to a dozen are missing after a mudslide on the outskirts of Hiroshima.
Hillsides have caved in or been swept down into residential areas in at least five valleys in the suburbs of the western Japanese city after heavy rains left slopes unstable.
Video from national broadcaster NHK showed rescue workers suspended by ropes from police helicopters pulling victims from the rubble as rain-soaked slopes collapsed into torrents of mud, rock and debris.
Rescuers were also seen climbing carefully into windows of crushed homes as they searched for survivors.
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency, quoting the local government, said 19 people were known to be injured, two of them seriously.
“A few people were washed away and it is hard to know exactly how many are unaccounted for,” a spokesman said, explaining that conditions in the disaster area were hampering efforts to account for all those affected.
Authorities have issued warnings that further rains could trigger more landslides and flooding.
Landslides are a constant risk in mountainous, crowded Japan, where many homes are built on or near steep slopes.
Torrential rains in the early morning apparently caused slopes to collapse in an area where many of the buildings were newly built.
Damage from land and mudslides has increased over the past few decades because of increasingly frequent heavy rains, despite extensive work on stabilising slopes.
There have been nearly 1,200 landslides a year over the past 10 years, up from an average of about 770 a year during the previous decade.
Thirty-five people were killed in October last year in multiple mudslides on Izu-Oshima, an island south of Tokyo.
The mudslides followed a typhoon that delivered a record 824mm (more than 32in) of rain in a single day.