Tue, Feb

Japan Quake Survivors Face Rain and Aftershocks

Some 100,000 weary survivors of Japan's deadliest earthquake in a decade bedded down for a third night in makeshift shelters or slept outside as a series of strong aftershocks raised fears of another big tremor.

OJIYA, Japan — Some 100,000 weary survivors of Japan's deadliest earthquake in a decade bedded down for a third night in makeshift shelters or slept outside as a series of strong aftershocks raised fears of another big tremor.

A strong earthquake with a magnitude of 5.6 shook rural Niigata prefecture, about 250 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, early on Monday, two days after the first big tremor that killed at least 25 people and injured more than 2,700.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said an increase in aftershocks meant there was a 40 percent chance of an earthquake of magnitude 6.0 or greater in the area in the next week.

Saturday's initial earthquake had a magnitude of 6.8. It was the deadliest in Japan since the Kobe earthquake killed more than 6,400 people in 1995.

The magnitude of the earthquakes was measured according to a technique similar to the Richter scale but adjusted for Japan's geological characteristics. Saturday's earthquake measured 6.5 on the Richter scale, said the U.S. Geological Survey.


Rain and falling temperatures prompted fears of more landslides and of a cold and bitter night for those homeless or too frightened to return to their houses.

The Meteorological Agency warned that even relatively light rain might set off landslides, and authorities in Ojiya, one of the worst affected towns, and urged more people to evacuate.

"Landslides are a worry," said a Niigata government official. "In addition, it is already very cold at night for people who are camped outside, and if it rains, this will get even worse."

Tens of thousands of people have already spent two nights in evacuation centers or in the open air as the temperature fell below 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).

Some slept in their cars with the engines running, but many petrol stations had closed because they had no electricity.

"There has been big damage to lifelines of electricity, gas, and water and many people are at evacuation centers, unable to go home," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told reporters. "The government is making every effort ... for disaster relief and reconstruction so that those affected can return to their livelihoods with peace of mind," he said, adding that the government would approve extra spending if needed.

Quakes Follow Typhoons

The tremors follow a record 10 typhoons to hit Japan this year, including one that killed at least 80 people last week.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was to visit the area on Tuesday to see the damage and comfort survivors.

Military helicopters airlifted around 2,000 residents of the village of Yamakoshi, where many had been stranded by landslides.

"I have no food. I have nothing to drink. I have no change of clothes for my children. But I'm relieved," said a young woman after being rescued.

Police in Niigata said later on Monday that they had found out that three people — a 39-year-old woman, her three-year-old daughter, and her two-year-old son — were missing.

"We have just found out that they have been missing since Saturday afternoon. They may have been hit by landslides on the way back home from Niigata city by car," said a police spokesman.

As of Monday evening, the number of people evacuated had risen to nearly 98,000, Japanese media said.

Tohoku Electric Power struggled to restore services to the area, where 57,000 households still lacked electricity.

About 2,800 homes were completely or partly destroyed, and more than 1,000 other buildings damaged, public broadcaster NHK said. Telephone services were disrupted, train rails twisted, and highways severely damaged.

"There's no way I can do business, and I haven't a clue when I'll be able to," said a middle-aged man cleaning up around the building that had housed his garage before it slid down a riverbank near Ojiya.

Since the Kobe earthquake, authorities have improved their rescue work, expert said.

"The response this time wasn't perfect, but it definitely was much better," said Takehiko Yamamura, head of the private Disaster Prevention System Institute.

Some Niigata residents ventured back to their homes to inspect damage, but officials warned them to stay away from collapsed buildings because of the danger of aftershocks.

Experts said Saturday's tremor had occurred in a "seismic gap" — part of an active fault that had experienced little or no seismic activity for a long period, causing stress to build up and making an earthquake more likely.

There were no reports of significant damage to industry in the region, which includes chemical and textile manufacturing, electronics, and food processing.

But some factories had halted operations, and damage to roads and railways raised concerns about distribution bottlenecks.

Tokyo's stock market fell 1.82 percent to a five-month closing low, although analysts said the earthquake was not a major factor.

Japan is one of the world's most seismically active areas, accounting for about 20 percent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude six or greater.

Additional reporting by Elaine Lies, Isabel Reynolds, Linda Sieg, and Teruaki Ueno in Tokyo

Source: Reuters