The wooden home barely withstood the first earthquake. An even stronger one the next night dealt what might have been the final blow - if not to the house, then to the Tanaka family’s peace of mind.
The Tanakas joined about 50 other residents of the southern Japanese town of Ozu who were planning to sleep in their cars at a public park after two nights of increasingly terrifying earthquakes that have killed 41 people and injured about 1,500, flattened houses and triggered major landslides.
“I don’t think we can go back there. Our life is in limbo,” said 62-year-old Yoshiaki Tanaka, as other evacuees served rice balls for dinner. He, his wife and his 85-year-old mother fled their home after a magnitude-7.3 earthquake struck yesterday at 1:25 am, just 28 hours after a magnitude-6.5 quake hit the same area.
Search efforts resumed this morning for about half-a-dozen missing people in debris-strewn communities in a mountainous area near Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the Defence Ministry is coordinating with the US military in Japan to add US aircraft to the search and recovery effort.
Landslides from yesterday’s earthquake have blocked roads and destroyed bridges, making it difficult to access the area east of Kumamoto, a city of 740,000 on the southwestern island of Kyushu.
Overnight rainfall did not appear to cause any more landslides, as had been feared, and the skies had cleared by morning.
About 80,000 homes in Kumamoto prefecture still didn’t have electricity today, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said. Japanese media reported that an estimated 400,000 households were without running water.
Kumamoto prefectural official Riho Tajima said that more than 200 houses and other buildings had been either destroyed or damaged, and that 91,000 people had evacuated from their homes.
Hundreds of people lined up for rations at distribution points before nightfall, bracing for the rain and strong winds that were expected. Local stores quickly ran out of stock and shuttered their doors, and people said they were worried about running out of food.
Police in Kumamoto prefecture said that at least 32 people had died from yesterday morning’s earthquake. Nine died in the quake on Thursday night.
More than half the deaths were in Mashiki, a town on the eastern border of Kumamoto city that was hit hardest by the first quake. Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported that four people were missing in Minamiaso, a more rural area farther east of Kumamoto where the landslides were triggered by the second quake.
One landslide tore open a mountainside in Minamiaso from the top to a highway below. Another gnawed at a highway, above a smashed house that had fallen down a ravine. In another part of the village, houses were hanging precariously at the edge of a huge hole cut open in the earth.