Tokyo - Flood-hit evacuees in Japan began returning to their homes to begin a massive clean-up operation on Monday after record rainfall forced hundreds of thousands to flee and left at least 32 dead or missing.
Television footage showed residents shovelling mud from their homes, while mechanical diggers removed fallen trees and debris from the roads.
The torrential rainfall wrought devastation in southwest Japan, with rivers bursting their banks, and muddy water inundating houses.
Troops were called in on Sunday to airlift supplies to those cut off by landslides and flooding, while local authorities dispatched rescue helicopters to ferry the elderly to hospital.
The death toll from landslides and floods has risen to 26, with rescuers on the island of Kyushu still searching six missing people.
"We are stepping up efforts to remove rubble as roads remain covered with mud at many points," Masatatsu Minoda, an official from Kumamoto prefecture on Kyushu island, told AFP by phone.
"Workers are engaged in clean-up efforts while taking care against possible further landslides. We may have to stop working if it rains heavily again."
The meteorological agency said rains had eased - but warned further downpours in northern Kyushu on Monday could trigger more landslides.
Most of the 400 000 people who were ordered or advised to evacuate their homes on the hard-hit island have been allowed to return home, after authorities began lifting evacuation orders on Sunday. But 6 000 are still under instructions to stay away.
In Yame, a mountainous area of Kyushu's Fukuoka prefecture, 5 000 people had been isolated by landslides, but just 82 remained cut off, officials said.