By Toru Hanai
HIROSHIMA (Reuters) - Heavy rain delayed a search on Friday for more than 50 people believed buried under a deadly landslide on the edge of the Japanese city of Hiroshima, as opposition politicians rounded on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his handling of the disaster.
Rescue workers feared the continuing rain could set off further landslides in the area after a month's worth of rain fell in one night on Wednesday, loosening slopes already saturated by heavy rain over the past few weeks.
The death toll currently stands at 39.
Abe has been criticized by the opposition for playing several rounds of golf on the day of the disaster before breaking it off to rush back to Tokyo. Critics have also slammed his returning to his vacation villa afterwards.
Among those killed were two brothers, aged 11 and 2, and a firefighter who was engulfed by mud as he was carrying a toddler to safety. The child also perished.
"There was a really strange smell, a very raw, earthy smell. When we opened a window to see what was going on, the entire hillside just came down, with a crackling noise, a thundering noise," one woman told Fuji television.
She and her husband fled just before their house filled with mud, leaving 5 meter boulders where they had been sleeping.
About 240 mm (9 inches) of rain fell in the area about 3 km from the center of the city in the 24 hours up to Wednesday morning, the Meterological Agency said. Roughly half of that rain fell in one hour.
Cities in land-scarce Japan often expand into mountainous areas, with houses tucked just below steep slopes, leaving them vulnerable to landslides.
(Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)