Eleven missing in Japan as rescuers race against time to reach quake victims

At least 41 people are known to have died in the disaster, with 11 still missing — feared buried in shattered houses or under torrents of mud.
Members of the metropolitan police department special rescue team search for missing people at a flat in Minami-Aso. Kimimasa Mayama / EPA
Members of the metropolitan police department special rescue team search for missing people at a flat in Minami-Aso. Kimimasa Mayama / EPA

MINAMIASO, Japan // Eleven people remained missing on Sunday in southern Japan from two powerful earthquakes that killed 41 people, as the US military announced it was preparing to join relief efforts and Toyota said it would suspend nearly all of its vehicle production in Japan.

Thousands of rescue workers fanned out in often mountainous terrain to search for the missing. Rescue helicopters could be seen going into and out of the area, much of which has been cut off by landslides and road and bridge damage.

With 180,000 people seeking shelter, some evacuees said that food distribution was a meager two rice balls for dinner.

US forces were getting ready to provide aerial support for Japan’s relief efforts. The US has major air force, navy and marine bases in Japan, and stations about 50,000 troops in the country.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said, “We are extremely grateful, and we would like to coordinate quickly and have the emergency relief be transported in as soon as possible.”

Shiori Yatabe, an official at the Kumamoto prefecture crisis management department, said 11 people were missing. She did not have a breakdown, but Japanese media reported that eight were in Minamiaso village.

About 100 troops, police and other rescue workers searched for those missing in Minamiaso, shoveling dirt in areas where they were believed to have been buried. A few stretchers were on hand in case anyone was found alive.

Minamiaso is in a mountainous area southwest of 1,592-meter-high Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan. Aerial footage from Japanese TV showed teams of rescuers going through small clusters of destroyed buildings.

Earthquakes on successive nights struck Kumamoto city and the surrounding region late last week.

Nine people died in the first earthquake, and 32 in the second. Kumamoto, a city of 740,000, is on the southwestern island of Kyushu.

Overnight rainfall did not appear to cause any more landslides, as had been feared, and the skies had cleared by Sunday morning.

About 80,000 homes in Kumamoto prefecture still did not have electricity on Sunday, the ministry of economy, trade and industry said. Japanese media reported earlier that an estimated 400,000 households were without running water.

More than 1,000 buildings were damaged in the two earthquakes, including at least 90 that were destroyed.

Many residents were still recovering from the shock of the destruction, while struggling to bring their lives, and spirit, together.

“Without water and electricity, we can’t do anything. Without the TV on, we can’t even get information about disaster relief operations,” said Megumi Kudo, 51, standing in a line for water outside a community centre in Aso city. A few blocks away, 75-year-old Tokio Miyamoto said he’s too afraid to sleep alone in his house, so he lugs his futon bedding every evening to an evacuation centre. “It’s a hassle, but it’s too scary to be alone,” he said.

* Associated Press

Published: April 17, 2016 04:00 AM

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