Sun, Sep 28, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Japan cleans up after earthquake, aftershocks

DAMAGE Roads, harbors and buildings were hard hit by the devestating temblor while at least 453 people were injured and many still hide in shelters

AFP , OBIHIRO, JAPAN

Police searched for two missing men and cleaned up damaged roads, harbors and buildings yesterday as aftershocks of a massive earthquake rattled the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

On Friday, a tremor measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale rocked the island, injuring at least 453 people, according to the Hokkaido prefectural police. The public broadcasting network NHK put the figure at 559.

In an accident indirectly related to the quake, a 61-year-old man was killed after being run over by a car as he was clearing quake debris on Friday.

Police and the coast guard sent three patrol boats and two helicopters in search of two people missing in the small Pacific fishing port of Toyokoro after they went fishing in a river after the quakes.

"More than 200 officials from the police, the fire department and the coast guard were deployed, but we still could not find anything possibly belonging to them," said Yoshitomo Nittani, chief of the Otsu Fire Department.

"Since aftershocks have continued, we are on alert against possible tidal waves while searching for them," Nittani said.

The two men, aged 66 and 69, disappeared after leaving their cars at the mouth of the river. Officials fear they may have been washed away by tidal waves triggered after Friday's earthquake.

More than 200 people spent a restless night at shelters after being evacuated from homes damaged by the quake, which struck the island and triggered tidal waves.

A total of 50 aftershocks rocked Hokkaido by noon yesterday, the Meteorological Agency said.

A quake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale hit large areas of southeastern Hokkaido at 5:38am yesterday. Its focus was 30km below sea level in the Pacific off the southeastern coast of Hokkaido.

"There was no panic at this shelter last night," said Masahiro Watanabe, head of the village hall in Toyokoro, where 60 people sheltered overnight.

"But they looked stressful as they were startled by continued aftershocks," Watanabe said. "The residents returned to their homes to clean up the mess, and we expect many of them will come back to this shelter tonight."

Hundreds of workers were engaged in rebuilding of damaged roads, repairing wide cracks with sand and bulldozing fragments of asphalt ripped off by the quake.

Divers were searching the Tokachi port in Hiroo -- one of the towns closest to the epicenter -- for missing cars engulfed by receding waters of tidal waves following the quake.

Port officials began rebuilding damaged piers, where a dozen fishing boats remained washed up by the tidal waves.

Railway services were suspended near Kushiro, southeastern Hokkaido, as an eight-car train remained derailed, while water supply was still cut off at some 5,000 households.

The quake was the largest to hit Japan since one measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale injured 436 in Hokkaido on Oct. 4, 1994.

Japan's deadliest quake in recent years struck the western Japanese city of Kobe on Jan. 17, 1995, measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale, and killing 6,432 and injuring some 43,800.

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