• Kyodo

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Residents of Ojiya, Niigata Prefecture, forced out of their homes by the powerful quakes that hit the prefecture Saturday now have to contend with a gasoline shortage.

Many have been sleeping in their cars — which they keep idling all night to stay warm — because their houses were damaged by the quakes and continuing aftershocks.

However, most of the city’s roughly 20 gas stations have been shut down due to a power outage and the residents are forming long lines at gas stations in neighboring towns and cities.

“To save gas, I try to turn on the heater in my car only when I cannot stand the chill at night,” said Yoshiyuki Tanaka, 48, who was visiting a gas station about 10 km from a relief station in Ojiya where he parks his car.

“I wish I could move around more so that I can buy supplies for my family.”

A 43-year-old man has parked his car in the playground of a local elementary school since Saturday evening. He and three other family members have been sleeping in the car.

“In this neighborhood, we rely on cars for transportation, and I also need the car to sleep at night,” he said. “It was all right last night because it was not so chilly, but I’m worried how long the gasoline (in the vehicle) will last because it’s forecast that the temperature will fall.”

A 52-year-old owner of a 24-hour gas station in the nearby town of Koshiji said he uses a generator to keep his outlet open. He shuttles between the town and Niigata port to procure gasoline.

“This morning my customers started lining up at 6 a.m. and waited for up to 30 minutes to fill up,” he said. “The station is kept busy through late at night.”

A hospital in Ojiya started moving about 200 of its patients whose treatment has become difficult due to the lack of electricity and water, including those on artificial dialysis.

Helicopters and ambulances were mobilized to transport patients from Ojiya General Hospital, whose facilities were damaged by the quakes, to other institutions.

“Even if you have medical and food supplies, a hospital cannot function if there is no water or electricity. This cannot be helped, because we are unable to give sufficient treatment to our patients,” said Tadahiro Yokomori, head of the Ojiya hospital.

The roof of a 30-year-old hospital ward collapsed during the quakes, which also destroyed the water pipes and flooded the facility, the hospital said. Patients in the collapsed ward were moved to the lobby of a newer ward.

The hospital has since relied on an in-house power generator for electricity, but supplies of fuel oil are scarce. To cool the machine, hospital workers had to carry water in buckets from a nearby river.

Through the Niigata Prefectural Government, the Ojiya hospital contacted institutions that can take over its patients. On Monday, it moved some of the patients to hospitals in the cities of Niigata and Nagaoka.

Tremor acceleration

The series of powerful earthquakes Saturday evening had a greater level of tremor acceleration than the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, according to government observation records.

Seismic data recorded at the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention and the Meteorological Agency show that the level of acceleration reached 1,500 gals during the quakes, compared with 818 gals during the 1995 quake. A gal is a unit of acceleration equal to 1 cm per second per second.

Acceleration shows the strength of tremors. When the upward acceleration exceeds the Earth’s gravitational acceleration of 980 gals, objects lift off the floor.

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