At least three people have died and 23 are missing after floods swept houses off their foundations and crushed them under landslides across Japan, forcing more than 100,000 to flee. The waters are slowly retreating in the worst-hit city of Joso after washing houses away, sometimes with their owners still inside, in scenes reminiscent of a tsunami.

A 63-year-old woman was crushed when her house was hit by a landslide and another woman died when her car was swept away. At least 28 people were injured, eight seriously. More than 280 people have been airlifted out of Joso. A man in his 20s died after falling into a drainage ditch in Nikko city.

Japan storm Etau floods
A woman walks towards a house that was ashed away into a field inundated by floodwaters in JosoJiji Press/AFP
Japan storm Etau floods
Floodwaters from the Kinugawa river flow into a residential area in JosoJiji Press/AFP
Japan floods Joso
An aerial view shows a parking lot and the Joso municipal government building flooded by the Kinugawa riverKyodo/Reuters
Japan storm Etau floods
People standing on a partially submerged road watch as a family is evacuated by boat in JosoJiji Press/AFP
Japan floods Joso
The sun sets behind the wreckage of a house submerged in floodwaters in JosoKazuhiro Nogi/AFP
Japan storm Etau floods
An aerial view of part of Joso, flooded by the Kinugawa riverIssei Kato/Reuters
Japan storm Etau floods
Vehicles and a house are submerged by floodwaters in JosoJiji Press/AFP
Japan storm Etau floods
A man stands on an embankment dividing a flooded road in JosoJiji Press/AFP
Japan storm Etau floods
Soldiers use a boat to transport elderly patients after they were evacuated from a hospital in JosoJiji Press/AFP
Japan storm Etau floods
A soldier carries an elderly woman from Joso upon her arrival at a shelter in Tsukubamirai, Ibaraki prefectureKazuhiro Nogi/AFP
Japan floods Joso
The sun sets behind the wreckage of a vehicle submerged in floodwaters in JosoKazuhiro Nogi/AFP
Japan storm Etau floods
A military helicopter flies over a flooded street during a rescue mission in JosoKazuhiro Nogi/AFP
Japan storm Etau floods
Goods lie strewn across the floor of a shopping centre in JosoKazuhiro Nogi/AFP
Japan storm Etau floods
A man clears muddy floodwaters from a launderette in JosoKazuhiro Nogi/AFP
Japan storm Etau floods
Debris and mud are seen outside a house damaged by massive flooding in JosoKazuhiro Nogi/AFP
Japan floods Joso
A collapsed house lies in a flooded paddy field in JosoKazuhiro Nogi/AFP
Japan storm Etau floods
A community centre is surrounded by floodwatersJiji Press/AFP
Japan storm Etau floods
Members of the fire brigade stand on a flooded street in Joso as they watch a rescue operation by helicoptersKazuhiro Nogi/AFP

Some parts of Japan received more than twice the usual September amount of rain in 48 hours, sparking some of the worst flooding in more than 60 years. Two eight-year-old children are among the missing as the flooding spread north to Miyagi prefecture, whose coastline was ravaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Some of those rescued said the flooding brought back memories of that disaster. Helicopters crisscrossed skies over the largely rural town of Osaki, 350km north of Tokyo, which was inundated by the Shibui river.

Japan storm Etau floods
An aerial view of the town of Osaki in Miyagi prefecture, flooded by the Shibui riverKyodo/Reuters
Japan storm Etau floods
A rescuer and local residents walk through floodwaters from the burst Shibui river in Osaki, Miyagi PrefectureJiji Press/AFP

The flooding did not reach nuclear reactors damaged in the 2011 disaster in Fukushima but at least 30 bags filled with suspected radioactive grass and other contaminated material were swept away from a site where they were being stored in a nearby town. Most of the bags were recovered undamaged and none of the contents – which were from an area with low levels of radioactive contamination - had leaked, the Environment Ministry said.