Nearly a quarter of indirect Kumamoto quake deaths linked to sheltering in vehicles

Kyodo

About a quarter of the indirect deaths officially linked to last April’s earthquakes in Kumamoto and Oita prefectures spent some of their nights in a vehicle, it has been learned.

Of the 170 people indirectly killed by the disaster, such as through a decline in health, at least 41, or 24 percent, had spent one night or more in a vehicle, Kyodo News has found.

The 41 deaths include six suspected of being caused by deep vein thrombosis, better known as economy class syndrome, after being driven from their homes due the quakes, which included a magnitude-6.5 temblor on April 14 and a magnitude-7.3 jolt two days later.

The evacuees chose to sleep in their cars to protect their privacy and weather any aftershocks.

The results of the survey, based on data collected from municipalities, suggest authorities need to factor in such public health risks and take preventive measures for the future.

The other indirect deaths included 26 people who were hospital patients when the quakes struck and died after being transferred to other facilities. These people accounted for 15 percent of all indirect deaths.

The number of people killed indirectly far exceeded the 50 who were killed directly by the quakes.

Of the 170 indirect deaths, more than 90 percent were 60 or older. Four committed suicide after developing psychological problems.

Among those who spent some nights in a vehicle, one died after a heart attack and another died of heart disease at home after sleeping in a car until May.

In many cases, the hospital inpatients were forced to move as they could not receive treatment due to power and water outages or damaged medical equipment and facilities.

Some were forced to transfer to multiple hospitals after the two quakes that maxed out at 7 on Japan’s seismic intensity scale.

In some cases, relatives declined to disclose any details. But the data showed that the quake-related deaths included 88 men and 76 women. By age, those in their 80s topped the list with 62 deaths, followed by those in their 70s with 36 and those in their 90s with 32.

The figure also included a woman over 100, a 4-year-old girl who was forced to switch hospitals, and a newborn infant delivered after the mother went into premature labor after staying overnight in a vehicle.