Wednesday 26 April 2017

Rescuers dig through dirt for 11 missing people after Japanese quake that killed at least 41

A woman carrying a young girl walks away from a collapsed house caused by an earthquake in Mashiki town, Kumamoto. Photo: Reuters
A woman carrying a young girl walks away from a collapsed house caused by an earthquake in Mashiki town, Kumamoto. Photo: Reuters

Mari Yamaguchi

Eleven people are still missing in southern Japan after two powerful earthquakes that killed 41 people.

The US military, which has about 50,000 troops in the country, announced it was to join relief efforts, and Toyota said it would suspend nearly all of its vehicle production in Japan.

Thousands of rescue workers fanned out in often mountainous terrain to search for the missing. Rescue helicopters could be seen going into and out of the area, much of which has been cut off by landslides and road and bridge damage.

With 180,000 people seeking shelter, some evacuees said that food supplies were meagre.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: "We are extremely grateful, and we would like to co-ordinate quickly and have the emergency relief be transported in as soon as possible."

Shiori Yatabe, an official at the Kumamoto prefecture crisis management department, said 11 people were missing, with eight understood to be in Minamiaso village in the centre of the island of Kyusu.

About 100 troops, police and other rescue workers searched for those missing in Minamiaso, shovelling dirt in areas where they were believed to have been buried. A few stretchers were on hand in case anyone was found alive.

Minamiaso is in a mountainous area southwest of 1,592-metre-high Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan. Aerial footage showed teams of rescuers going through small clusters of destroyed buildings.

Earthquakes on successive nights struck Kumamoto city, with a population of 740,000, and the surrounding region late last week. Nine people died in the first earthquake, and 32 in the second. The hardest-hit town appears to be Mashiki, on the eastern border of Kumamoto city, where 20 people died.

Overnight rainfall did not appear to cause any more landslides, as had been feared, and the skies had cleared by yesterday morning.

About 80,000 homes in Kumamoto prefecture were still without power yesterday, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said.

Japanese media reported earlier that an estimated 400,000 households on the island were without running water.

More than 1,000 buildings were damaged in the two earthquakes, including at least 90 that were destroyed.

Many residents were still recovering from the shock of the destruction.

"Without water and electricity, we can't do anything. Without the TV on, we can't even get information about disaster relief operations," said Megumi Kudo (51), standing in a line for water outside a community centre in Aso city. "We can't take a bath, not even a shower."

Mr Kudo came with his wife and a 12-year-old daughter, carrying several empty plastic containers to get water while his 80-year-old mother waited at home. "It's better to be prepared than sorry, as we learned the hard way," he said.

His house survived, despite major roof damage, but, like many others, the family is sleeping in their cars outside.

A few blocks away, 75-year-old Tokio Miyamoto said he's too afraid to sleep alone in his house, so he lugs his futon bedding every evening to an evacuation centre.

"It's a hassle, but it's too scary to be alone," he said.

Mr Miyamoto said there was insufficient food at the evacuation centre, only a couple of rice balls each time.

Irish Independent

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