OJIYA, Niigata Pref. — Thousands of stranded people were airlifted Monday from their mountainous communities in the earthquake-hit Chuetsu region of Niigata Prefecture, as the death toll from Saturday’s powerful quakes reached 25.
The region continued to suffer from aftershocks, while efforts to restore power and water supplies remained slow.
Authorities meanwhile warned Monday evening against fresh landslides as the region experienced its first rainfall since Saturday’s powerful quakes.
Meteorological Agency officials said one reason for the extensive damage caused by the earthquakes was that they struck areas that had been drenched by heavy rains from Typhoon Tokage, which swept through Japan last week.
The topsoil of the water-soaked mountains and hills gave way easily when jolted, officials said, adding that additional rain would only serve to further loosen earth.
Police said Monday that Ryoichi Tooda, a 54-year-old company employee in the city of Tokamachi, was found dead in the car in which he had taken refuge with his 77-year-old mother. He apparently suffered a stroke caused by exhaustion from trying to clean up his quake-hit house through the night.
Ei Kikuchi, a 74-year-old woman in Tokamachi, died of a stroke, also brought about by fatigue, police said.
Meanwhile, a man in the town of Koide, Niigata Prefecture, told police his wife and two children have been missing since Saturday, when the region was hit by the powerful quakes.
Police are looking into the possibility that Takako Minagawa, 39, her 3-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son may have been hit by the quakes while they were driving home Saturday after visiting a friend in the city of Niigata.
Their vehicle has not been accounted for, and police suspect Minagawa may have been driving on National Route No. 17, which was hit by a mudslide in the city of Nagaoka.
A strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 jolted the region Monday morning and was classified as one of the aftershocks of the deadly quakes that hit the prefecture Saturday, the Meteorological Agency said.
The latest big quake, which occurred at 6:05 a.m. registered an upper 5 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 in Ojiya and Irihirose. The Meteorological Agency said there were at least 76 quakes felt by humans on Monday alone.
The three deadly quakes that struck Saturday evening were classed as having an intensity of upper 6.
A 6.8-magnitude quake centered in the Chuetsu region in Niigata Prefecture rocked the area Saturday evening, knocking a bullet train from its rails, ripping through roadways and rattling buildings as far away as Tokyo.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters in Tokyo he would visit several afflicted areas Tuesday.
Tadayoshi Nagashima, mayor of the village of Yamakoshi, one of the affected areas, visited Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida on Monday morning to request that all of the villagers be evacuated to safety, local officials said.
The only road to Yamakoshi was cut off by a landslide.
Izumida, who won the Oct. 17 gubernatorial election, assumed office Monday as the country’s youngest governor, succeeding Ikuo Hirayama.
Some 30 police and Self-Defense Forces helicopters shuttled residents of seven municipalities, including Yamakoshi, who had been left stranded after the first three quakes. About 60 communities in the prefecture remained cut off as of Monday morning.
The villagers assembled at a makeshift heliport from the 14 hamlets where they had been taking refuge.
The evacuation of most of the 2,160 residents of Yamakoshi — except for six people who decided to stay — was completed by 3:30 p.m. They were taken to three sites, including a high school, in the city of Nagaoka.
According to prefectural officials, roughly 97,000 people — many of them elderly — had been evacuated from their homes to emergency shelters as of Monday evening.
The injured overwhelmed small area hospitals, where patients were being treated in hallways.
Sachiko Nezu, 55, was evacuated to a municipal gymnasium in her city of Tokamachi.
“I thought that the earthquakes would subside, but the strong aftershock this morning has made me so frightened that I am afraid to go home,” she said.
She added that she lives with two people in their 80s who have trouble walking.
“They say they want to go home, but they wouldn’t be able to escape if something happens,” Nezu said. “How long is this going to continue?”
At a high school in Tokamachi, some 630 people lined up for food, but only 340 “onigiri” rice balls were available. The evacuees were allocated one onigiri for every two people, with many offering their portion to small children or those who were ill.
Tomi Hirasawa, 78, was taking refuge in a car parked in the school playground at Higashi Ojiya Elementary School along with a neighbor. The car, she said, was lent to her by a man she did not even know.
On Sunday, she was reunited with her daughter and son-in-law, who brought food and other supplies from Tokyo.
“They suggested that I go with them to Tokyo,” she said. “But I don’t want to leave for some other place at this age. I’m just thankful for all the kindness everyone has shown.”
As of Monday afternoon, some 110,000 homes were still without a fresh water supply, while gas lines remained severed for roughly 56,000 households. Many of the afflicted areas were receiving water from tank trucks dispatched by municipalities nationwide.
According to Tohoku Electric Power Co., some 47,000 homes were still without electricity, even though power was restored to roughly 6,000 households on Monday.
Staff report The government is ready to compile a supplementary budget to help reconstruction projects following the deadly quakes that hit Niigata over the weekend and a series of typhoons that swept through Japan this year, the top government spokesman said Monday.
If necessary, the government will submit the budget during the regular Diet session that convenes in January, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a news conference.
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