Desperate hunt for quake survivors

Soldiers searching for survivors yesterday in a collapsed apartment in the aftermath of two earthquakes in Minamiaso, Kumamoto prefecture. Heavy rains fuelled worries of more landslides and with hundreds of aftershocks and fears of more, thousands sp
Soldiers searching for survivors yesterday in a collapsed apartment in the aftermath of two earthquakes in Minamiaso, Kumamoto prefecture. Heavy rains fuelled worries of more landslides and with hundreds of aftershocks and fears of more, thousands spent the night in evacuation centres.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Rescue teams search ruins on Japan's Kyushu island in wake of second devastating tremor

TOKYO • Japanese rescue teams scoured the splintered remains of buildings destroyed by a series of deadly earthquakes on Japan's south-western Kyushu island as time ran out for finding survivors and as major Japanese manufacturers face production losses from supply chain disruptions.

A 7.3-magnitude tremor struck early on Saturday, killing at least 32 people, injuring 1,000 more and causing widespread damage to houses, roads and bridges, with at least one mountain highway severed in two, concrete tumbling into the valley below.

In the village of Minamiaso, 11 people were "out of contact", said public broadcaster NHK yesterday. Rescuers pulled 10 students out of a collapsed university apartment in the same settlement on Saturday.

"In Minamiaso, where the damage is concentrated, there may still be people trapped under collapsed buildings, so we are focusing our attention and rescue and search efforts in this area," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

Saturday's quake had 10 times the energy of the quake that hit the same region on Thursday, killing nine people. More than 440 tremors have rocked the area since Thursday, while some 110,000 people have been evacuated, media reports said.

Heavy rains fuelled worries of more landslides and with hundreds of aftershocks and fears of more quakes, thousands spent the night in evacuation centres.

Saturday's earthquake apparently defied official expectations. The epicentre was located on the northern side of the Futagawa fault zone, an area the government's Earthquake Research Committee had deemed to have "an almost 0 to 0.9 per cent chance" of being hit by a magnitude-7 earthquake within 30 years.

"It's full in there. There's not an inch to sleep or even walk about in there. It's impossible in there," a resident of Mashiki town said outside an evacuation centre.

Saturday's earthquake apparently defied official expectations. The epicentre was located on the northern side of the Futagawa fault zone, an area the government's Earthquake Research Committee had deemed to have "an almost 0 to 0.9 per cent chance" of being hit by a magnitude-7 earthquake within 30 years.

Three nuclear plants in the region were unaffected, but the Nuclear Regulation Authority said it will hold an extraordinary meeting today to discuss the situation.

A massive 9-magnitude quake and tsunami in northern Japan in 2011 caused the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986, shutting down the nuclear industry for safety checks. The first reactor to restart was Kyushu Electric's Sendai No. 1, which is at one of the plants in the region hit on Saturday.

Toyota Motor said it would suspend production at plants across Japan after the quakes disrupted its supply chain.

Honda Motor said production at its motorcycle plant in southern Japan would be suspended this week, while Sony said its Kumamoto plant, which makes image sensors for Apple and others, would remain suspended.

All commercial flights to the damaged Kumamoto airport were cancelled and the bullet train to the region suspended. Expressways are closed in wide areas because of landslides and cracks in the road surface, hindering supplies of water and food reaching survivors.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would boost the number of troops helping out to 25,000 and had accepted a US offer of help with air transportation in rescue efforts.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan have written to Mr Abe and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida respectively to express their condolences, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday.

REUTERS, YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2016, with the headline 'Desperate hunt for quake survivors'. Print Edition | Subscribe