Death toll hits 110 in Japan quake

AFP , Saturday 6 Jan 2024

Rescuers and residents sifted through rubble Saturday as the focus turned to recovering bodies and cleaning up rather than finding survivors, five days after a huge earthquake struck central Japan killing at least 110 people.

Rain falls as police officers remove the wreckage from a fire at a burnt market in Wajima, Ishikawa
Rain falls as police officers remove the wreckage from a fire at a burnt market in Wajima, Ishikawa prefecture, Japan Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024. AP

 

The death toll from the New Year's Day 7.5-magnitude quake in the Ishikawa region of Japan's main Honshu island was certain to rise, with 210 people still unaccounted for, authorities said.

The work of thousands of rescue workers has been hampered by bad weather -- snow was forecast for Sunday -- and roads torn apart by gaping cracks and blocked by an estimated 1,000 landslides.

Two elderly women were pulled from the wreckage of their homes on Thursday in the badly hit city of Wajima on the Noto peninsula, but since there has been no reason for cheer.

In Suzu, where dozens of homes lie in ruins, a dog barked while an AFP team filmed the clean-up operation on Friday, the signal of a grim discovery.

"Training for disaster rescue dogs begins with something similar to a game of hide-and-seek," canine trainer Masayo Kikuchi told AFP.

"Finally they are trained to bark when seeing a person under the rubble."

Houses containing any fatalities that are discovered are being marked and left alone until a coroner can come with relatives to identify the body.

In the port city fishing boats were sunk or lifted like toys onto the shore by tsunami waves that also reportedly swept one person away.

The coastal community of Shiromaru, which was hit by a tsunami several metres high on January 1, was a tangled mess of wooden, metal and plastic debris.

"The tsunami came from the cove of Shiromaru through the river, and then ran up through the street," said one of its roughly 100 residents, Toshio Sakashita.

"We have received no public support here. Look, the main street is still blocked due to the rubble, which has been left untouched," the 69-year-old told AFP.

"We cannot live in our house any more," Yukio Teraoka, 82, told AFP as he and his wife shovelled heavy, sodden sand brought by the waves out of their wrecked home.

Pray for souls 
 

Local authorities said Saturday that 110 people were confirmed dead, with 210 unaccounted for.

"We sincerely pray for the repose of the souls of those who have passed away," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on X, formerly Twitter.

In an emergency response meeting he told ministers "urgently and swiftly" to repair roads to help hundreds of people in cut-off areas.

Despite frosty ties with Japan, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a message of "deep sympathy and condolences", state news agency KCNA reported, echoing the United States, China and other countries.

Around 23,800 households were without electricity in Ishikawa region and more than 66,400 without running water.

Power and water outages have also affected hospitals and facilities for taking care of elderly and disabled people.

More than 30,000 people were in 357 government shelters.

Japan experiences hundreds of earthquakes every year and most cause no damage, with strict building codes in place for more than four decades. But many buildings are older.

The country is haunted by the monster quake of 2011 that triggered a tsunami that left around 18,500 people dead or missing and caused a nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima plant.

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