• Japan’s Kumamoto residents pick up the pieces following Kyushu’s strongest quake

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    By Daisuke Kikuchi

    MASHIKI, Kumamoto Prefecture: The toll from the high-intensity earthquake in Kumamoto stood at nine dead and over 1,000 injured Friday as rescue crews scrambled to search the debris for survivors.

    The shallow, magnitude-6.5 quake toppled houses and buckled roads in and around the prefectural capital on Thursday night in what was Kyushu’s first level 7 temblor on the seven-tier Japanese seismic intensity scale.

    “It was just like the Great Hanshin Earthquake or the Great East Japan Earthquake. I never thought I would experience that here,” mother-of-one Akiko Hakata told The Japan Times. “I hunched over my son to protect him.”

    Most of the victims were in the town of Mashiki, on the capital’s eastern fringe. But heavy damage was incurred elsewhere, including at historic Kumamoto Castle.

    The quake struck at 9:26 p.m. at a depth of just 11 kilometers under Mashiki, the Meteorological Agency said, prompting tens of thousands of residents from there and elsewhere to take refuge at public shelters for the night.

    “Last night, most people stayed outdoors, or stayed inside their cars. It was so cold and frightening,” Hakata said.

    Officials are fielding hundreds of calls about damage and trapped people, but multiple aftershocks are disrupting rescue operations.

    At a collapsed house in Mashiki, however, an 8-month-old girl was pulled alive from the rubble 6.5 hours after the quake. The effort saw more than 50 policemen and firefighters extract Asami Nishimura from her home after the second floor collapsed while her daughter, Miku, was asleep downstairs.

    The evacuation centers were packed with dazed people.

    Emergency food at one center in Mashiki on Friday morning ran out immediately, but supplies recommenced later in the day.

    At another, Tomiko Takahashi, 94, recounted being awakened by a loud noise from the quake. When the door refused to budge, she got out by squeezing through a crack in the walls, which had partially collapsed.

    “I can’t sleep because of fear from the aftershocks. I have never experienced something so frightening,” she said.

    Hakata and her husband were looking for food and a place to charge their phones in Mashiki but said they plan to evacuate to Kumamoto by car because they heard the city still has running water and electricity.

    Ayumi Ishikawa, 34, said she and her family fled their home without many belongings.

    “I’m sure we have to be ready for a prolonged evacuation, but I don’t have a sense of reality about this,” Ishikawa said.

    Mashiki tourism official Shinji Takahashi said 20 to 30 percent of the buildings in town collapsed.

    “There are 34,000 people living here, so we are preparing four or five elementary schools and libraries to be used as a shelter tonight, and probably for a while,” Takahashi said.

    Although volunteers have stepped forward to help coordinate the work, he said more manpower is needed.

    “We are short of staff. If we go on like this, we will be going three or four days without sleep,” added.

    The Self-Defense Forces have been deployed, and the National Police Agency said it has dispatched 1,084 officers from 19 prefectures to help.

    The injured are being treated around town hall, where food and water are being distributed.

    At a hastily set up medical center, a 16-year-old girl who was diagnosed with a depressed skull fracture said she could not remember what happened.

    Power was cut in many areas, and gas leaks prompted Saibu Gas Co. to turn off supplies to some homes in the capital. Tens of thousands of households were without running water.

    The full extent of the damage became clear on Friday.

    At least 20 buildings collapsed, but many more sustained cracks or other structural damage that may render them uninhabitable. There were also seven fires.

    Kumamoto Castle, a designated important national treasure and arguably the prefecture’s No. 1 tourist attraction, sustained heavy damage.

    Part of the castle’s main wall collapsed and tiles fell from its roof. Massive stone embankments crumbled in at least six locations, and numerous cracks emerged in the walls, according to the castle’s management office.

    The damage in Mashiki may take a long time to repair. The roads were ripped apart, and smashed kawara tiles and shattered walls lay everywhere.

    Walking down the street is hazardous, given the many cracks in the asphalt and falling debris from buildings, and all the stores are shut.

    In the meantime, aftershocks continue to jolt the neighborhood.

    The epicenter was only 120 kilometers from Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai power station in Kagoshima, Japan’s only active nuclear plant.

    According to the Kumamoto police, four men and five women were killed: Toshiaki Ito, 61; Fujito Aramaki, 84; Masataka Murakami, 61; Tatsuya Sakamoto, 29; Sueko Fukumoto, 54; Yoko Miyamori, 55; Tomoko Tomita, 89; Hanae Murakami, 94 and Yumiko Matsumoto, 68.

    Kyushu Electric said there were no abnormalities in the plant, adding that it is looking into any possible damage.

    Shikoku Electric Power Co. said its idled Ikata nuclear plant in Ehime Prefecture sustained no damage.

    JR Kyushu suspended the Kyushu Shinkansen Line after the quake, while power on the Sanyo Shinkansen Line, which connects Honshu to Kyushu, was lost between Hakata and Kokura stations. Operations later resumed at around 9:40 p.m.

    The Meteorological Agency said it was the first level 7 quake since the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 and the first on such a scale to hit Kyushu.

    Remarkably, the heaviest damage was confined to Mashiki, with areas around Kumamoto experiencing strong jolts between 3 and lower 5 on the Japanese scale.

    Among the numerous aftershocks, however, was one with a preliminary magnitude 6.4 and an intensity of upper 6 that hit the area shortly after midnight, and was preceded by one with a magnitude of 5.7 shortly after 10 p.m. TNS

    TNS/BF

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