Rescuers rush to Japan earthquake zone

April 17, 2016 2:00 am
Thousands of army troops and other rescuers yesterday rushed to save scores of residents trapped after this week’s two earthquakes in .
The exact number of casualties remained unclear after the powerful quakes, which struck a day apart in southwestern Japan.
Rain was forecast to start pounding the area soon, threatening to further complicate relief operations and set off more mudslides in isolated rural towns, where people were waiting to be rescued in collapsed homes.
Kumamoto Prefectural official Tomoyuki Tanaka said the death toll had climbed to 19, and was still rising, after yesterday’s magnitude-7.3 quake, which shook the region on the southwestern island of Kyushu at 1:25am. On Thursday night, Kyushu was hit by a magnitude-6.5 quake that killed 10.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said 80 of the 1500 people injuredwere in a serious condition. Nearly 70,000 have left their homes, he said.

“Daytime today is the big test,” he said. Landslides have already cut off roads and destroyed bridges, slowing rescuers.Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed concern about the disaster worsening as the weather forecast showed rain and strong winds. Rain could set off mudslides as the quakes had already loosened the soil.
Police received reports of 97 people trapped or buried under collapsed buildings, and 10 people were caught in landslides in three municipalities in the prefecture, Kyodo reported.
TV footage showed a collapsed student dormitory of Tokai University, which was originally two floors, but now looked like a single storey building. A witness said he heard a cry for help from the rubble. Two students were reported to have died.
In Mashiki, where people have been trapped beneath the rubble for hours, an unconscious elderly woman was dragged out from the debris of her home. Her son-in-law Tatsuhiko Sakata said 93-year-old Yumiko Yamauchi had refused to move to shelter with him after the first quake Thursday.

Massive landslide cuts off highway. Photo / AP

“When I came to see her last night, I was asking her: ‘Mother? I’m here! Do you remember me? Do you remember my face?’ and she replied with a huge smile filled with joy. A kind of smile that I would never forget. And that was the last I saw of her,” Sakata said.
The area has been rocked by aftershocks, including the strongest with a magnitude of 5.4 yesterday morning. The Japan Meteorological Agency said that Saturday’s may be the main quake, with the earlier one a precursor. The quakes’ epicentres have been relatively shallow – about 10km – and close to the surface, resulting in more severe shaking and damage. NHK TV said as many as eight quakes were being felt an hour in the area.
Japanese media reported that nearly 200,000 homes were without electricity. Drinking water systems had also failed. TV footage showed people huddled in blankets, quietly, shoulder to shoulder, on floors of evacuation centres. An estimated 410,000 households need water.
One massive landslide tore open a mountainside in Minamiaso village in Kunamato Prefecture all the way from the top to a highway below. Another gnawed at a highway, collapsing a house that fell down a ravine and smashed at the bottom. In another part of the village, houses were left hanging precariously at the edge of a huge hole in the earth.
Suga told reporters the number of troops in the area was being raised to 20,000, and additional police and firefighters were also on the way.
He pleaded with people not to panic. “Please let’s help each other and stay calm,” he said in a televised news conference.

Rescuers save a man from his crushed house. Photo / AP

In a hot springs resort, dozens of trapped people were picked up by military helicopters, Asahi TV reported.
Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan, located on Kyushu, erupted for the first time in a month, sending smoke rising about 100m into the air, but no damage was reported. It was not immediately clear if there’s a link between the seismic activity and the eruption. The 1592m high mountain is about 1½ hour drive from the epicentre.
The historic Aso Shrine, a picturesque complex near the volcano, was seriously damaged, and a number of buildings were flattened on the ground like lopsided fans.
A towering gate, known as the “cherry blossom gate” because of its grandeur especially during spring, had collapsed.
The more-than 1700-year-old shrine is designated an “important cultural property” by the government, and has been a popular tourist spot in Kyushu. The Nuclear Regulation Authority reported no abnormalities at Kyushu’s Sendai nuclear plant. NHK TV showed stones tumbled from the walls of historic Kumamoto Castle.
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