NIIGATA – Some 350 residents of the village of Yamakoshi, Niigata Prefecture — evacuated after a series of quakes devastated the area last week — temporarily returned to their homes Friday after a road was reopened.
All 2,000 residents were evacuated to the neighboring city of Nagaoka after three initial quakes damaged or destroyed roads, leaving the village stranded.
Responding to villagers’ wishes, the village government decided to allow some residents who live along the reopened road to return for two-hour stints on Friday and Saturday to pick up valuables and daily necessities.
Only one person from each household was allowed to return on one of the two days by bus, taxi or Self-Defense Forces helicopter. Officials said Saturday’s trip would be postponed if the weather was bad.
Many of the villagers voiced anxiety over their locally raised carp, a Yamakoshi specialty.
“Thinking about the carp we left behind, we are more worried than delighted” to return, said carp farmer Masahiro Ishihara, 54. “We’ll be unable to resume our business if all the seed carp die out.”
Tatsuji Takano, 67, was one of the last villagers to agree to abandon his property.
“Calls had been mounting for authorities to not let the Yamakoshi carp die, so I’m glad we’re able to go back.”
Some residents appeared shocked when they saw their homes, which had been severely damaged by landslides and aftershocks that struck the area after they left.
The governmental Geographical Survey Institute said Friday its analysis of aerial photographs of afflicted areas showed that slopes and hillsides around Yamakoshi had slid away at roughly 300 spots.
According to the local government, the restored road will be opened between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. As a crime-prevention measure, only official emergency vehicles and authorized vehicles will be able to use it.
The Niigata Prefectural Government had been trying to reopen the road by filling sections that had caved in and removing fallen trees, rocks and dirt since Thursday.
Yamakoshi is also known for its cattle industry, and some of the animals are bred for bullfighting in a traditional festival that has been designated as an important intangible folk culture asset.
Tournaments held at three bullrings in the village between May and November every year attract tourists from around the country.
Earlier this week, prefectural officials said that about 1,000 cattle and some 40 fighting bulls had been left behind in the village after the blanket evacuation order was issued.
While local officials say it would be a health problem if the animals were left to die, they admit that they have their hands full in dealing with other damage caused by the earthquakes.
Also Friday, a wake was held for Takako Minagawa, 39, and her 3-year-old daughter, Mayu, in the town of Koide in the prefecture. The pair died when their car was buried in a quake-triggered landslide, although Minagawa’s 2-year-old son Yuta was miraculously rescued.
Mayu’s body has yet to be recovered from the wreckage, with officials saying it could take at least a month for rescuers to be able to retrieve it from the car, which is still buried along a steep slope.
Takako’s husband, Manabu, who lived alone in Tokyo due to his work, said he wanted his daughter’s body to come home as soon as possible.
He repeatedly thanked those who took part in efforts to rescue his family despite the dangers of working amid repeated aftershocks.
He said that Yuta, who remains in hospital, has been recovering steadily since his rescue Wednesday.
U.S. military helps out
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government used U.S. military aircraft to send clothes, toiletries and other goods from U.S. Yokota Air Base to quake-hit Niigata Prefecture, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said Friday.
It is the first time that Tokyo has used U.S. planes at the base to send relief supplies, the metro government said.
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