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aPRIL J19, 2016

Food shortages at shelters grew worse and administrative offices struggled Monday in Kumamoto Prefecture to help the tens of thousands of people forced from their homes after last week’s earthquakes caused widespread damage in Kyushu, including to municipal offices.

Rescue workers resumed the hunt for nine people still missing in Kumamoto, the hardest hit prefecture, while the U.S. military delivered emergency supplies to evacuees using its controversial Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

“The mud here is so soft, so it is still moving downward as many aftershocks hit,” Tsukasa Goto of the Self-Defense Forces said in Minamiaso, adding that at least four houses were been swept away in a landslide. “The heavy machines finally came this morning as they were blocked by roads that were broken and cut off.”

Rescuers were racing against time to find people before they are buried by more landslides caused by the hundreds of aftershocks that have rocked the area.

Officials have confirmed that 43 people have died and roughly 1,100 have been injured in Kumamoto and elsewhere in Kyushu since Thursday’s magnitude-6.5 quake and the more powerful magnitude-7.3 quake early Saturday.

In all, more than 500 quakes have occurred since Thursday, mainly in Kumamoto and neighboring Oita Prefecture.


Police said a 77-year-old woman died Sunday of acute heart failure while being sheltered in Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture. Authorities said stress or fatigue from the evacuation likely contributed to her death.

As of Monday morning, 104,900 people were in shelters in Kumamoto, down from about 110,000 Sunday afternoon, officials said. With aftershocks still jolting the region, many were unlikely to leave anytime soon.

Because the earthquakes and ensuing mudslides severed key roads, officials were having difficulty getting supplies to local shops and shelters. Numerous reports of shelters being unable to serve breakfast to some evacuees emerged Monday, the Kumamoto Municipal Government said.

In Kumamoto Prefecture on Monday, the first business day since the magnitude-7.3 quake, the cities of Uto and Yatsushiro, as well as the town of Mashiki, whose administrative buildings were damaged by the temblors, were only partially operating.

Four Okinawa-based MV-22 Ospreys hauled 20 tons of supplies, including food, water and blankets, to the village of Minamiaso on Monday after loading the supplies at a Ground Self-Defense Force camp in Mashiki.

This is reportedly the first time that the Ospreys, which can take off like a helicopter and cruise like a plane, have been used in a disaster relief mission in Japan. It’s spotty safety record has caused concerns in some parts of the country.

Other U.S. military aircraft, such as C-130 transport planes, are also expected to aid in the relief effort.

About 450 elementary, junior high and high schools as well as numerous kindergartens were closed Monday in Kumamoto Prefecture, while 26 public schools were closed in Oita Prefecture.

“We are doing our best,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told lawmakers when challenged by the opposition over the government’s handling of the relief effort. “We are striving to improve living conditions for the people who have sought refuge.

“Today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, we will be working toward a full recovery,” Abe said.

As part of the effort, the central government was sending more emergency food supplies. Initially, the government had decided to send 900,000 meals to feed 100,000 evacuees for three days. Some 41,000 meals had already been shipped to Kumamoto on Sunday, and another 365,000 were sent on Monday.

However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the number of emergency meals would be doubled to 1.8 million as more people lacking basic supplies are flooding the evacuation centers.

Power outages as of Monday evening were affecting 26,000 households. Some 15,000 households had no access to gas and 245,000 were without water. Officials in Tokyo said they were hoping 110,000 households would have their water restored by Tuesday.

“Without water and electricity, we can’t do anything. Without the TV, we can’t even get information about disaster relief operations,” said Megumi Kudo, 51, who was standing in line for water outside a community center in the city of Aso. “We can’t take a bath, not even a shower.”

Kudo came with his wife and 12-year-old daughter, carrying several empty plastic containers to fill with water while his 80-year-old mother waited at home.

“It’s better to be prepared than sorry, as we learned the hard way,” he said.

His house survived despite major roof damage, but like many, the family was sleeping in their cars.

A few blocks away, 75-year-old Tokio Miyamoto said he was wary of sleeping alone in his house, so he was lugging his futon bedding every evening to an evacuation center. “It’s a hassle, but it’s too scary to be alone,” he said.

Earthquake experts held a news conference in Tokyo to explain why so few people died in the Kumamoto quakes compared with the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, a magnitude-7.3 quake that killed as many as 6,000 people.

Kimiro Meguro, president of the Japan Association of Earthquake Engineering, said this is simply because the number of buildings in the disaster-hit area was far smaller than in the heavily populated Kobe area.

“The ratio of damaged structures is not very different, but the total number (of buildings) is far smaller,” Meguro said.

The 1995 quake struck densely populated residential areas in Kobe, one of the largest urban areas in western Japan, whereas much of the quake-ravaged areas in Kyushu are rural.

Both the 1995 quake and Saturday’s temblor measured 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale.

Teruyuki Kato, president of the Seismological Society of Japan, pointed out that after the 1995 quake, numerous devices to measure seismic intensity were set up throughout the country.

With so many instruments spread out across the nation it is now easy to measure any earthquake activity quickly and accurately. This may be why the highest intensity level of 7 was recorded at Mashiki, Kato said.

Kumamoto quake info: where to go, how to help