Japan quake claims 41 lives as strong winds, heavy rain hampers rescue missions

TOKYO, Japan — A powerful magnitude-7.3 earthquake struck the island of Kyushu in southwestern Japan early Saturday just a day after a sizable foreshock hit the region, with the number of fatalities now standing at 41 according to the latest figures on Sunday.

Thousands of people have been injured as a result of the quakes and aftershocks which have been centered in and around Kumamoto Prefecture, and both the government and the weather agency here have warned Sunday that strong winds and heavy rain is expected to continue throughout the day and that further aftershocks and landslides are expected.

They said they adverse weather conditions are likely to compound an already disastrous situation, which has seen widespread devastation throughout the prefecture and beyond and expect injuries and fatalities to potentially increase, as scores still remain trapped beneath rubble and debris and unaccounted for.

More than 2,000 people have received treatment in hospital for injuries, public broadcaster NHK said Sunday following the quake, and about 90,000 people were evacuated to shelters overnight in hardest-hit Kumamoto Prefecture.

More than 1,700 houses were destroyed or partially damaged in the prefecture, including over 1,400 in the village of Nishihara, figures from prefectural officials show.

The M7.3 quake struck Kumamoto at a relatively shallow depth of about 12 kilometers at 1:25 a.m. on Saturday and registered upper 6 on Japan’s seismic scale which peaks at 7 and was the same ferocity as the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake which leveled Japan’s famous port city of Kobe.

The M7.3 quake on Saturday is now believed to be the main quake, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), with an earlier M6.5 quake hitting on Thursday night, which registered a maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic scale in some areas, now believed to be one of the main quake’s foreshocks.

At a press conference on Sunday Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that he is being updated constantly by rescue services and the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and that they are continuing to “work tirelessly on life-saving and rescue activities as there are still people unaccounted for.”

“The victims spent a difficult night in shelters last night and we will make sure that enough food, medical care and water is made available,” the Japanese premiere said, adding that the government intends to improve the living conditions of the evacuees while ensuring their stay in emergency accommodation is not prolonged.

Abe also thanked the United States for their offer of help, but said at this point the situation did not require assistance from the US.

As noted by Abe, extensive damage had been cause by the multiple quakes in the region, with some 450,000 households left without power as the mercury dropped overnight and heavy wind and rain further added to the overall danger and misery in the area. In addition almost 400,000 homes do not have direct access to water.

Local utilities said Sunday they have deployed mobile power trucks to help make up for the electricity deficit in some of the hardest-hit areas as well as to ensure emergency facilities, such as hospitals are provided for.

Japan’s Infrastructure Minister Keiichi Ishii said that he will implement measures to ensure that enough temporary housing units are built in response to local government’s request to more suitably accommodate the growing number of those displaced by the quake.

Taro Kono, the Cabinet minister in charge of anti-disaster measures, in addition has said that emergency food, baby formula and diapers, will be sent to those in need, as both municipal and local governments try to grapple with the 90,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in Kumamoto alone, as a result of the quakes.

The Self-Defense Forces will continue to add personnel to lead search and rescue operations and provide food, water and emergency care to the victims in the disaster areas, with 10,000 more troops expected to be deployed Sunday, bringing the total from 15,000 to 25,000 the government also said.

More than 7,000 people who had to evacuate their homes in one of the hardest-hit regions of Mashiki Town, in Kumamoto Prefecture, are facing further hardships as strong winds and heavy rains worsened conditions in the worst-hit area overnight, Japan’s Meteorological Agency said.

One of the evacuation centers to which the residents of Mashiki where directed to was packed beyond its limit with more than 600 people taking shelter there overnight in frigid and damp conditions.

NHK said that among the evacuees, many of whom were in their 60s. Three elderly citizens were forced to spend the night under a plastic sheet on the street as the evacuation center was full. The three where in wheelchairs and the evacuation center said there was no space and it was difficult to care for them in such crowded conditions.

The weather agency has warned that the heavy rain and strong winds are expected throughout the day as well as further aftershocks. The JMA said that further land and mudslides were also highly likely.

The weather is almost certain to hamper the ongoing search and rescue efforts of the SDF and other emergency rescue personnel in the quake-hit region, an official from the JMA was quoted as saying on Sunday.

Flights in and out of Kumamoto Airport have been suspended as has the Shinkansen bullet train service in the Kyushu area.

Major portions of arterial routes and expressways in the region have also been closed due to significant cracks in the road caused by the quakes or the roads crumbling. PNA/Xinhua/northboundasia.com