Minamiaso | About 100,000 evacuees, some sleeping outdoors or in their cars, endured chilly weather today and another large aftershock as the death toll from Japan’s twin earthquakes rose to 44. Searchers digging through landslide and building debris in a mountainous area found two bodies yesterday.
At least one appeared to be among the nine reported missing, according to Japanese media reports. After daybreak today, Japanese broadcaster NHK showed people squatting at the curbside outside an evacuation center to brush their teeth with water coming out of a green garden hose. Food and water shortages are plaguing the recovery effort, even as the search for the missing goes on in the mountain town of Minamiaso.
US airlifts delivered water, bread, ready-to-eat food and other emergency supplies to a the remote area of southern Japan stricken by the two powerful earthquakes. Authorities said at least 44 people died and about 1,100 were injured in the quakes on Thursday and early Saturday. An aftershock with magnitude 5.8 hit the area last evening but no further injuries were reported.
The flights by two MV-22 Ospreys were a gesture of cooperation between the two allies and a chance for the U.S. military to demonstrate the utility of the tilt-rotor aircraft, whose deployment has raised controversy in Japan due to safety concerns. Limited flights also resumed to Kumamoto Airport on today, but outbound flights remain suspended because the terminal building is too damaged to handle security checks.
Minamiaso, a town of 12,000 on the southern island of Kyushu, was partly cut off by landslides and road and bridge damage. Residents there marked their location with chairs aligned in a giant SOS while awaiting the U.S. relief flights, which also delivered tents and portable toilets and waste treatment kits. Yachiyo Fuchigami, 64, was among those keeping a wary eye on puffs of smoke rising from nearby 1,592-meter (5,223-foot) Mount Aso, Japan’s largest active volcano.
Fuchigami suffered a broken arm when a bookshelf fell on her during the second earthquake. The first quake caused more damage in another, less remote city, Mashiki. The second earthquake caught us by surprise, she said.
We survived the first one and were watching the scenes in Mashiki on TV. I never thought we were going to be next. Nine people died in the first, magnitude 6.4 earthquake, and 35 in the second quake, which registered 7.1, revised from an initial reading of 7.3. The US has about 50,000 troops stationed in Japan, and the American military played a large role in rescue and relief in 2011 after a massive earthquake and tsunami hit the northeastern coast of the main island of Honshu.