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UPDATE: Death toll rises to 7 in southwestern Japan floods; princess delays engagement announcement

FUKUOKA/OITA, Japan — Record rainfall lashed the southwestern Japan prefectures of Fukuoka and Oita through Thursday, leaving seven people dead and over twenty unaccounted for, according to Japanese news media.

Self-Defense Forces members, police officers and firefighters started full-scale search operations in the small hours of Thursday in the two prefectures. The operations involved about 7,800 personnel.

A man was found dead in Asakura, Fukuoka Prefecture, where 24-hour rainfall to 11:40 a.m. Thursday reached 545.5 millimeters, a record high.

In Hita, Oita Prefecture, where the 24-hour rainfall to 10:50 a.m. totaled a record 370.0 millimeters, a landslide killed a 45-year-old man and injured two women. Another body was found in a river in the city.

The Kyodo News later put the death toll at seven and reported that more than twenty people were still missing.

On Wednesday evening, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued special emergency warnings for heavy rain caused by an intensified seasonal rain front in the two prefectures. The warnings, which covered 20 municipalities in Fukuoka Prefecture and 12 in Oita Prefecture, were lifted on Thursday afternoon.

But the agency forecast intermittent heavy rain through Friday afternoon and put residents on alert for landslides and flooding.

An emergency warning is issued to prevent people's lives from being endangered when the agency sees an imminent risk of an unusually massive natural disaster that may happen only once in decades.

Evacuation advisories were issued for over 300,000 people in the Fukuoka Prefecture city of Kurume and over 50,000 people in Asakura.

Over 100 emergency calls were made by residents of Asakura and Toho.

Rivers flooded in Asakura and the town of Soeda in Fukuoka, and also in Hita. As some residents of these municipalities were stranded by the floods, the two prefectures asked the SDF to send members on disaster-relief missions.

In Asakura, three Fukuoka prefectural government officials engaged in road patrol activities went missing on Wednesday, but were confirmed safe on Thursday. At least about 1,000 residents of Asakura evacuated to a total of 13 facilities.

Princess Delay Announcement

The Kyodo News also cited unnamed sources as saying that a planned announcement of the engagement of Princess Mako, the eldest granddaughter of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, has been postponed due to the events in Kyushu.

Japan's Imperial Household Agency said in June that Princess Mako and Kei Komuro would hold a news conference on July 8 after a formal announcement, but the date has been reset.

The slated engagement of Princess Mako drew media attention internationally in part due to the fact that by law she will lose her royal title when she marries Kei Komuro, a commoner.

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