JOSO, Japan, Sept. 10 (UPI) -- At least two people have died, several are missing and more than 170,000 have been evacuated due to flooding and landslides in eastern Japan, where one town was overwhelmed with water from Tropical Storm Etau.
The Ibaraki prefecture's town of Joso was submerged by floodwaters after being hit by a wall of water when the nearby Kinugawa River burst its banks. Japanese military personnel carried out rooftop rescue operations on residents stuck in their homes.
Floodwaters pulled houses off their foundations and washed away vehicles in the town.
"Tochigi Prefecture is facing a grave danger and is in an emergency situation," Japan Meteorological Agency Spokesman Takuya Deshimaru said, CNN reported. "It is experiencing unprecedented downpour."
Japanese authorities have rescued more than 120 people by Thursday afternoon.
The most-affected areas were the prefectures of Ibaraki and Tochigi, where Japan's Meteorological Agency has Emergency Warnings, the highest level, in effect.
Television crews filmed dramatic rescue operations in Joso, a town of about 65,000 people located about 37 miles northeast of Tokyo. One man was filmed clinging to a utility pole as water surged past before being rescued.
In several areas in the Tochigi prefecture, more than 19 inches of rain fell within 24 hours -- double the amount that normally falls throughout the entire month of September.
Many parts of central and eastern Japan have experienced heavy rain, landslides, flooding, thunderstorms and high waves due to Typhoon Etau, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm.
"This is a downpour on a scale that we have not experienced before," forecaster Takuya Deshimaru said in an emergency news conference. "Grave danger could be imminent."
The heavy rain has caused additional leaks at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where the site's drainage pumps were overwhelmed -- causing radioactive water to leak into the Pacific Ocean.
At least 15 people have been injured across Japan. The heavy rain is forecast to spread north Friday.
"The government will stand united and do its best to deal with the disaster, by putting its highest priority on people's lives," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.