Search for survivors stepped up on Japan’s Hokkaido island after quake that killed dozens

Power restored to most of prefecture after being cut for two days, while rescuers deal with thousands of homes without water and thick mud on Sapporo’s streets

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 September, 2018, 4:48pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 September, 2018, 9:43pm

Time was running out on Saturday for survivors of a magnitude 6.7 earthquake that rocked Japan’s Hokkaido island, triggering landslides that tore deep brown scars in hillsides. Meanwhile, public broadcaster NHK said 35 people were dead in one town, with around five still missing.

About 40,000 personnel including members of the Self-Defence Forces, police and firefighters intensified operations as the first 72 hours after a quake are considered crucial for finding survivors.

“They’re doing their best around the clock,” said top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga, adding that rescuers were using bulldozers, sniffer dogs and 75 helicopters.

Most of the dead – and nearly 400 injured – were residents of the town of Atsuma, where massive landslides buried a number of homes when the quake struck at about 3am on Thursday.

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“We never had landslides here,” Akira Matsushita, who lost his brother, told TV Asahi. “I couldn’t believe until I saw it with my own eyes. When I saw it, I knew no one could survive.”

The quake cut power to all the nearly 3 million homes in the prefecture, according to Hokkaido Electric Power. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said power was mostly restored on Saturday.

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“Thanks to hard work to boost power supply throughout the night, the number of households without power has declined to 20,000,” Abe told a cabinet meeting to discuss the quake.

He said the government would release emergency funds to deliver food, water and fuel needed for power generators at hospitals. “We will continue to deliver to victims,” he said.

About 31,000 households still have no water and an estimated 16,000 people were moved to shelters.

Parts of a neighbourhood in the main city of Sapporo were caked in deep mud after mudslides. Backhoes were removing some of the solidified mud to clear a road in Kiyota ward on the eastern edge of the city.

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In parts of Kiyota, the earth gave way as it liquefied, tilting homes and leaving manhole covers standing a metre (three feet) in the air. In car parks, cars were still stuck in mud that reached part of the way up their wheels.

At the nearby New Chitose Airport, international flights were resumed, while some 1,200 people stayed overnight in buildings at the key gateway to Hokkaido, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism said.

On Saturday, around 90 international flights were expected to arrive and depart from the airport. Around 90 per cent of regular domestic flights resumed, up from 60 per cent on Friday when such flights were restarted.

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The terminal building at the airport was crowded with visitors – mainly from China and South Korea – who were anxious to get home.

“We were supposed to get on a flight departing in the afternoon, but we were worried so we came first thing this morning,” said 23-year-old Hong Seung Hee, who was visiting Hokkaido from South Korea with a friend. “We had a hard time because the staff at our hotel only spoke Japanese.”

Toyota Motor announced that it would suspend nearly all its production in Japan on Monday. Toyota makes transmissions and other parts in Hokkaido and also has suppliers based on the island.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Kyodo