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At least 27 dead and several missing after landslides hit Hiroshima in Japan

Hillsides made unstable by days of torrential rain collapsed on homes

At least 27 people have died and many more are missing Japan, where rain sodden hills collapsed in deadly landslides of mud, rock and debris.

Homes and buildings in the outskirts of Hiroshima were buried by the torrent early on Wednesday and 10 people are still missing, according to government officials.

Rescue workers were seen suspended by ropes from police helicopters pulling victims from the rubble in footage broadcast by NHK.

Others gingerly climbed into windows as they searched for survivors in crushed homes. 

Hillsides in five valleys crumbled after days of heavy rain, crashing into suburbs of the western Japanese city.

"According to the National Police Agency, the death toll has risen to 27 and 10 others are still unaccounted for," a disaster management official told AFP news agency.

A spokesperson said another 19 people were injured, two seriously, and several of the dead are thought to be children.

Japan landslides.jpg

One of the youngest victims was a two-year-old boy, Kyodo news agency reported.

"I woke up in the middle of the night and the corridor to the living room of my house was already flooded," a survivor said.

"I heard the sound of water coming in, and then the water from the river rushed into my house, so I just took the car and rushed out."

There were reports that a 53-year-old rescue worker had died during the recovery operation when a hillside collapsed a second time.

"A few people were washed away and it is hard to know exactly how many are unaccounted for," said local government official Nakatoshi Okamoto.

Bad weather conditions in the disaster area were hindering efforts to account for all those affected, he said.

Video: Hiroshima's deadly landslide

Authorities have issued warnings that further rains could trigger more landslides and flooding. 

Landslides are a constant risk in mountainous Japan where many homes in densely populated areas 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 constructed. 

Damage from land and mudslides has increased over the past few decades due to more frequent heavy rains, despite extensive work to stabilise slopes.

In the past decade there have been nearly 1,200 landslides a year, according to the land ministry, up from an average of about 770 a year in the previous decade. 

In October last year, multiple mudslides following a typhoon in Izu-Oshima, an island south of Tokyo, killed 35 people, four of whose bodies were never recovered.

Additional reporting by AP