Kyushu villagers trapped by landslides, severed roads


Destroyed buildings, landslides and collapsed bridges that cut off entire neighborhoods are just some of tribulations the residents of the Kumamoto village of Minamiaso were forced to endure following the magnitude-7.3 quake that struck early Saturday.

Registering in upper 6 on Japan’s seismic scale, the temblor triggered another landslide that dumped tons of dirt and rocks onto National Route 57 and severely damaged a section of railway tracks of the JR Hohi line running parallel to the highway.

The Aso Ohashi bridge and a tunnel, which connect the village to the city of Kumamoto, is one of those that collapsed.

“The bridge that was always there is now gone,” a man who works at a nearby inn bemoaned, before hastening to check on the safety of his colleagues.

A male resident of the area received a call from his distraught son, a senior student of Tokai University, at around 3 a.m. on Saturday.

The son, who attends the university’s Aso campus, told him that his university dormitory had partially collapsed and that one of his friends was buried alive under the wreckage.

“I need to go save him,” the student told his father before hanging up. Much to the father’s relief, the son later called to say he was safe.

Firefighters and policemen scrambled to dig through the rubble of what was the dormitory, called Green Heights, to locate residents buried under the debris.

A woman living across the street prayed desperately as she watched the rescue operation. “Please find them alive,” she muttered.

A local hotel association said an estimated 60 people, including staff and guests, were stranded in two of the village’s inns.

Kenji Kawatsu, vice president of an inn named Seifuso, said he heard the very loud rumbling sounds of a landslide around midnight, prompting guests and staff to evacuate to a parking lot.

They spent the night in a parked bus encouraging one another.

“Water is running out. I don’t think it will last a day longer,” Kawatsu said.

Another man who works for a different hot-spring inn in the district of Kawayo likewise lamented after its ceilings came crashing down, smashing equipment into pieces.

“I don’t think we can operate for the next two or three months,” he said.

The Japan Red Cross Kumamoto Hospital, meanwhile, dealt with more than 300 injured residents following the quake early Saturday, even as it struggled to maintain normal operations amid blackouts.

Some patients suffered head injuries and had blood dripping down their faces, while others were brought in unconscious.

The blackouts caused by the jolt severely disrupted the hospital’s operations, and a standby generator stopped working in the emergency ward. This forced medical staff to treat patients in an ordinary ward and even in the hallways.

Dr. Yoichi Kato, who was charged with taking care of patients with minor injuries, said most had suffered bruises and broken bones.

“Their condition may deteriorate. I need to keep an eye for any sign of that possibility,” he said.

Meanwhile, another hospital in Kumamoto saw its ceilings damaged so badly that “it can no longer function as a medical institution,” Katsushi Yamauchi, an official with the hospital said, adding that it had to transfer about 150 patients to different facilities nearby. Those who remained had to sit or lay down helplessly in the lobby.

“Dozens of them will probably have to stay like this” for a while, Yamauchi said.

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