Tokyo - At least three people have died and 50 000 have been ordered to evacuate their homes as unprecedented rains pound the south-western Japanese island of Kyushu, officials and media said on Thursday.
Emergency workers in the Kumamoto region are responding to multiple reports of mudslides swallowing houses and people trapped, with access roads blocked by mud or gushing water, officials said.
Troops have been deployed with nearly 500mm of rain falling in the eight hours to 23:00 on Thursday in some parts of the region.
"Particularly in Kumamoto and Oita prefecture, we are seeing the heaviest rain that [the region] has ever experienced," the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
Kumamoto region confirmed the deaths of three women in their 70s and 80s, after waters destroyed their houses, an official said.
The local government has also received reports of at least five people missing, including a man who was swept away by a swollen river in Aso city.
'Swiftly as possible'
"We are receiving many requests for rescuers and reports of mudslides. We are responding to the calls as swiftly as we possibly can," a Kumamoto disaster official said.
In the Kumamoto region more than 17 000 households had been ordered to evacuate, with 5 000 more advised to seek shelter elsewhere.
In neighbouring Oita region, local authorities issued evacuation orders to nearly 15 000 people and advised a further 10 000 to leave by mid morning on Thursday.
"We have information suggesting one person died due to the heavy rain but no confirmed details," an Oita official said.
In all, more than 50 000 people in Oita and Kumamoto received evacuation orders, according to local media.
Self defence force troops have been deployed to the region for disaster relief efforts at the request of local governors.
The prime minister's office in Tokyo has established a liaison office to coordinate efforts among central government ministries to deal with the disaster.