Aftershocks rattle shaken villagers in rural central Japan

FIRM FOUNDATIONS::Experts said the structure of the wooden houses, which are built to withstand heavy snow in the winter, helped to prevent more casualties


Tue, Nov 25, 2014 - Page 6

Dozens of villagers remained in shelters yesterday as aftershocks rattled a region in central Japan hit by a weekend earthquake that injured at least 41 people and destroyed more than 50 homes.

The damage in a mountainous area that hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics was worse than initially thought, though many were rejoicing at the lack of any deaths.

At least 20 people, including one two-year-old, were pulled from homes toppled by the magnitude 6.7 earthquake late on Saturday night.

“Words cannot express my gratitude,” Kimito Tsutaki, 73, told national broadcaster NHK after she was pulled from her quilt bedding.

Neighbors used a car jack to lift collapsed timbers from on top of her.

Seven of the injured had broken bones, many after being crushed by heavy furniture as they slept on their tatami floors.

Some residents said they used the flashlights on their mobile phones to find their way to safety in the pitch dark.

Local experts said the structure of the mostly wooden houses, which are built to withstand heavy, wet snow in the winter, helped prevent more casualties.

“Houses in that area are built with many strong supports and that may be a reason why there was not more damage,” Reiji Tanaka, a professor emeritus at Tohoku University of Technology, told the Yomiuri Shimbun.

The quake struck west of Nagano at a relatively shallow depth of 5km in an area prone to strong earthquakes due to an active fault, experts at the Japan Meteorological Agency reported.

The agency reported nearly 80 aftershocks by midday yesterday.

The same area was struck by a magnitude 6.7 earthquake the day after the March 2011 quake and tsunami that devastated a long stretch of Japan’s northeastern coast, killing about 19,000 people.

The disaster affected a relatively sparsely populated area, but renewed concerns over preparedness for major earthquakes in major cities such as Tokyo.

The Asahi Shimbun cited local governments saying that most of the towns likely to be affected by a major quake expected to strike off Japan’s eastern coast were not prepared to provide emergency housing. Land for such facilities is in extremely short supply.

The hardest-hit area appeared to be Hakuba, where at least 43 homes were destroyed and 17 people were injured, national and local disaster agencies said.

Another seven homes were lost in Otari, a nearby village to the north. Non-residential buildings were also destroyed, with officials assessing the extent of the damage.

Many parts of rural Japan are occupied mostly by elderly people, many of them living on their own. After a 2004 earthquake to the north in Niigata, communities organized teams to ensure that no victims would be stranded or unaccounted for.