Rescue workers dig as quake toll grows

‘RESTLESS NIGHT’::Millions of people were left without electricity after a massive earthquake in Hokkaido, with officials warning of possible disasters from aftershocks

AFP, TOKYO

Sat, Sep 08, 2018 - Page 6

Japanese rescue workers with bulldozers and search dogs yesterday scrabbled through the mud to find survivors from a landslide that buried houses after a powerful earthquake, as the death toll rose to 18 people.

About 22 people are still unaccounted for in the small northern countryside town of Atsuma, where a cluster of dwellings were wrecked when a hillside collapsed from the force of the magnitude 6.6 earthquake, causing deep brown scars in the landscape.

“We’ve heard there are people still stuck under the mud, so we’ve been working around the clock, but it’s been difficult to rescue them,” a Japan Self-Defense Forces soldier in Atsuma told Japan Broadcasting Corp. “We will take measures to find them quickly.”

An older woman in Atsuma told the public broadcaster: “My relative is still buried under the mud and has not been found yet, so I couldn’t sleep at all last night. There were also several aftershocks so it was a restless night.”

About 1.6 million households in the sparsely populated northern island of Hokkaido were still without power after the earthquake damaged a thermal plant supplying electricity to the region.

Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko said that number should be reduced to 550,000 households yesterday.

“It will take about a week” before the largest thermal power plant recovers, “so during that period, we are sending power-generating vehicles to hospitals,” Seko said.

He urged people to conserve energy by having fewer lights on in shops and restaurants, and “for example, family members staying together in one room.”

About 22,000 rescue workers, including military personnel, handed out emergency water supplies and long lines formed at gas stations and supermarkets as people stocked up fearing further quakes.

“Please give your sympathy to people who spent a dark night in fear, and do everything you can to restore electricity as soon as possible,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a Cabinet meeting to discuss the earthquake.

The earthquake, which scored the maximum on a Japanese scale measuring the power of an earthquake’s shaking, also collapsed a handful of houses and walls in the island’s main city of Sapporo.

However, considering the strength of the earthquake, the death toll was relatively low, with the majority of victims coming from the landslide in Atsuma.

Transportation services were gradually coming back on line, with bullet trains resuming operations late yesterday morning and the main airport in Sapporo operating a partial service after canceling all flights the day before.

However, a soccer friendly between Japan and Chile in Sapporo planned for yesterday was scrapped due to the transport and power chaos in Hokkaido.

The earthquake was the latest in a string of natural disasters to batter the country.

Western parts of the country were still recovering from the most powerful typhoon to strike Japan in a quarter of a century, which claimed 11 lives and shut down the main regional airport.

Officials also warned of the danger of fresh earthquakes.

“Large quakes often occur, especially within two to three days [of a big one],” said Toshiyuki Matsumori, the Japan Meteorological Agency official in charge of monitoring earthquakes and tsunamis.

The risk of building collapses and landslides had increased, he said, urging residents “to pay full attention to seismic activity and rainfall, and not to go into dangerous areas.”

In June, a deadly tremor rocked the Osaka region, killing five people and injuring more than 350.

On March 11, 2011, a devastating magnitude 9 earthquake struck under the Pacific Ocean, and a resulting tsunami caused widespread damage and killed thousands of people.