• Kyodo

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People in Niigata Prefecture awaited relief efforts Sunday after spending a dreadful night in tents and community centers following a series of powerful earthquakes that rocked the area.

Victims remained at a loss amid intermittent aftershocks after larger temblors damaged their homes and crippled water and electricity service.

“I was sincerely hoping to see the dawn as we had no lights due to the blackout,” said 68-year-old Shoji Takizawa, a resident of Tokamachi, who spent a sleepless night in a car with his wife and son. “I’m scared to go home as it is a mess.”

In a local hospital, about 250 people, including inpatients as well as roughly 100 people injured in the quakes, lay on mattresses spread on the floors.

“My bed was shaking from side to side many times when I was having a meal (Saturday evening). I had to move out to evacuate, and I was so uneasy even after coming back and I could not sleep at all,” said 78-year-old Kazuo Sakai, who recently underwent heart surgery at the hospital.

Nobuyuki Jinbo, 57, pitched a tent in front of his home in Nagaoka to wait for dawn Sunday with his family because he did not feel safe inside the house.

“We huddled together to spend the night,” he said. “We were lucky that it did not rain.”

Jinbo boiled water on a charcoal stove and shared prepackaged noodles with his neighbors.

In the town of Kawaguchi, about 300 people were isolated due to landslides that closed off roads. They took refuge in an elementary school.

As the temperature dropped to below 10 degrees during the night, the evacuees gathered around bonfires to keep warm.

“We don’t have enough blankets and we need warm food,” said Shoji Maruyama, the school’s principal.

Meanwhile, food and water was transported to an emergency center set up in the city office in Ojiya, one of the hardest hit areas.

“We are currently gathering information, but we can’t determine the precise details of the damage as the roads are blocked in the mountain areas and phone lines are still suspended,” said Mayor Hirokazu Seki.

“All lifelines — electricity, gas and water — are crippled,” he said.

The Self-Defense Forces, from which the Niigata Prefectural Government requested help, opened a disaster headquarters at the prefectural government building.

The SDF launched a full-scale rescue mission with helicopters and transported food and water to evacuation sites.

About 300 personnel, 21 helicopters and 65 vehicles were dispatched for the relief effort. The SDF rescued three seriously injured people from an elementary school in Ojiya and searched for victims.

Welfare groups established an office for volunteers wishing to help the victims. The office will recruit and dispatch volunteers in cooperation with local governments.

Meanwhile, Niigata Prefecture set up a crisis support hotline for victims.

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