Cold weather in Japan hits evacuees after deadly earthquake in Hokkaido

Temperatures below 6 degrees Celsius may endanger the health of about 2,000 people still in shelters and people inside 6,000 homes still cut off from water

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2018, 1:26pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 September, 2018, 2:26pm

A sudden drop in temperatures took its toll on Tuesday on evacuees in temporary shelters following a deadly earthquake in Hokkaido that caused massive landslides last week.

With the mercury falling to 5.4 degrees Celsius (42 degrees Fahrenheit) in the hardest-hit town of Atsuma, it is feared the chilly weather could put the health of local residents at risk with about 2,000 people still in shelters and about 6,000 homes cut off from water in the area, according to the Hokkaido prefectural government.

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When the magnitude 6.7 earthquake rocked the region in Japan’s northernmost main island ion Thursday, the temperature was nearly 20 degrees.

At an evacuation centre near the town hall of Atsuma on Tuesday, evacuees rubbed their hands together at a hand-wash station.

“I wore a fleece and borrowed a blanket last night but it was so cold that I could not sleep,” said Naomi Konaya, 43, who is staying at the shelter with her family. “My niece developed a fever and is sick in bed probably because of the sudden temperature change.”

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At the facility, residents had slept on blankets directly placed on the cold floor until Monday when beds made of cardboard were brought in.

The earthquake killed 44 people and injured 683 across Hokkaido, with fatalities concentrated in Atsuma, where a number of homes were swept by landslides.

Of the 36 people who died in Atsuma, 80 per cent suffocated, while the other 20 per cent died of traumatic injury, according to authorities. Most of the victims were elderly people who are believed to have been buried alive after being engulfed by mudslides in the early morning.

A woman in her 60s, who was on the second floor of her home when a landslide struck, said, “The first floor was smashed right after the earthquake and the second floor was pushed out for about 30 metres. I could not save my mother-in-law who was sleeping downstairs.”

With some preschools still closed and municipal governments busy responding to urgent needs at evacuation facilities, experts warned of a lack of psychological support for children.

“Abnormal signs will come to the fore later. It would be difficult to pay attention to everything but I want (adults) to ask children whether they are able to sleep or have enough appetite,” said paediatric psychiatrist Hiroaki Homma.