Abe visits earthquake-hit Hokkaido as toll hits 42

AP and AFP, TOKYO

Mon, Sep 10, 2018 - Page 4

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday visited the quake-hit northern island of Hokkaido, home to 5.4 million people, as officials confirmed more deaths, bringing the toll to 42.

Abe visited hard-hit Kiyota ward on the eastern edge of Sapporo, capital of Hokkaido.

In some parts of Kiyota, the earth liquefied and sank as much as 1m, tilting houses, cracking roads and unleashing a mudflow that solidified and trapped vehicles in parking lots.

Abe was scheduled to visit residents at evacuation shelters in Atsuma before meeting Hokkaido Governor Harumi Takahashi.

A cluster of dwellings in the town were wrecked when a hillside collapsed from the force of the magnitude 6.7 earthquake on Thursday, creating deep brown scars in the landscape.

The Hokkaido government said the death toll stood at 39, with one body yet to be officially pronounced dead by a medical professional.

All but four of the victims were from Atsuma, a community of 4,600 people.

Abe’s visit comes as search-and-rescue operations continue around the clock to find two missing individuals.

“There is on-and-off rain at Atsuma. The work is continuing to look for the missing persons,” a regional disaster management official told Agence France-Presse.

The Japanese government has dispatched thousands of rescue workers, including members of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, to look for the missing pair with the aid of bulldozers, sniffer dogs and helicopters.

Rescue workers used backhoes and shovels to search for the missing in a tangle of dirt, fallen trees and the rubble of homes left by the landslides.

All 3 million households in Hokkaido lost power when the earthquake damaged a thermal plant supplying electricity to the region.

A few hundred were still without power yesterday, mostly in Atsuma.

Officials are asking local residents and businesses to save energy, particularly after the weekend, as electricity supplies remain unstable.

About 2,600 people were staying in temporary shelters, down from a peak of 16,600, the Hokkaido government said.

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

Western parts of the country are still recovering from the most powerful typhoon to strike Japan in 25 years, which claimed 11 lives and shut down the main regional airport.

Japan sits on the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” where many of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are recorded.

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