• Kyodo

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The death toll from the series of quakes in the Chuetsu region of Niigata Prefecture increased to 31 as five more quake-related fatalities were confirmed Tuesday.

The victims were identified as Tomishichi Imai, 91, in the town of Koide, Haruo Nagumo, 81, in the city of Ojiya, Umeno Komagata, 68, in the town of Yamato, Shinjiro Takahashi, 73, and Hidesaku Ando, 59, from Nagaoka.

Imai died in a local hospital after falling unconscious at his home Monday morning. The four others died either from a heart attack or a brain hemorrhage.

Local officials determined that the five became ill due to the effects of Saturday’s powerful quakes and subsequent aftershocks. Health care for elderly evacuees — many of whom are living in crowded shelters or cars because their houses are damaged — has become a serious issue.

Police also found the vehicle of a missing woman from the town of Koide buried in a landslide in the city of Nagaoka.

Officials tried to confirm whether there were people inside the car, but had to give up at sunset. They plan to resume the operation Wednesday morning.

Takako Minagawa, 39, lost contact with her husband after visiting a friend in the city of Niigata on Saturday with her two children. The husband asked police Monday to launch a missing persons search.

According to police, Minagawa’s car was found buried under rocks and mud with only its front end visible. It was near a road close to the border between Nagaoka and Ojiya.

An officer who descended to the site on a cable from a police helicopter brushed dust from the front section of the car and checked its license plate, and officials later identified the vehicle as Minagawa’s.

Survivors, including more than 100,000 evacuees, saw no quick end to their trauma as aftershocks continued and rain and cold weather set in.

The rain prompted worries of more landslides as well as health concerns, while water and gas supplies remained cut off in many parts of the prefecture.

The Meteorological Agency warned of downpours and possible flooding and landslides. The weather agency lowered its threshold for issuing flood and landslide warnings to take into account the continued aftershocks in the region.

The three big quakes that struck Saturday destroyed homes, buildings and roads.

Prefectural government officials said 103,172 people have taken refuge at 497 evacuation shelters in 34 municipalities.

There were 47,600 such evacuees in Nagaoka and 25,700 in Ojiya.

Two relatively big aftershocks hit the area early Tuesday, one of them at around 3:32 a.m. with a preliminary magnitude of 4.1 and registering 4 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 in Koshiji, the Meteorological Agency said.

Power that had been cut off in some 270,000 households since Saturday evening was steadily being restored. But power supply has still been cut in some 34,000 households mainly in the cities of Nagaoka and Ojiya.

About 108,000 households remain without running water and some 56,000 without gas.

The weather agency said temperatures in quake-hit central Niigata Prefecture are forecast to drop in the coming days, with snow possible in mountainous areas.

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