Koji Sunomori couldn’t see the boy’s face, but he knew the lifeless body belonged to his 2-year-old stepson, Kenta. He was wearing his favorite baseball shirt.
Sunomori found him among the rubble of what was supposed to be his new home. The 54-year-old had just married his wife, Nana, last month, and was planning to move in with her and her two children from a previous marriage in the coming days.
But Nana, her two children and her mother were caught last week in one of the deadliest storms to ever hit Japan. Massive rains caused flash flooding and landslides, one of which flattened Nana’s home in Kumano.
Her body was found a few days after last week’s torrential rain, but the children and Sunomori’s mother-in-law were not. Sunomori scoured the detritus for any sign of his family. When he found Kenta Thursday, he dropped to his knees, squeezed his palms tightly, and prayed.
“I found him, finally,” Sunomori told himself when recalling the story to local reporters, including CNN affiliate TV Asahi.
Kenta is one of the more than 200 people who have been killed in the aftermath of the downpour, as flash floods enveloped streets and landslides swallowed parts of the small towns that dot the Japanese countryside.
Another 54 people remain unaccounted for, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday. Some 73,000 personnel deployed by the government are still conducting search and rescue operations. After that, the clean-up efforts are expected to be massive.
“The region itself was experiencing rains, but some of these villages have never had rains of this magnitude before,” said Naomi Akamatsu, an emergency relief coordinator from the Japan Red Cross.
“The impact of the disaster itself is increasing more than what we were expecting.”