National

Rescued residents recount horror of being buried alive

Kyodo

People rescued from collapsed houses and other buildings Saturday described the terror they felt after barely escaping Kumamoto’s second deadly quake in less than 48 hours.

“The house started to shake, so I grabbed my cell phone and was about to run when it came down,” said Fumio Iwamoto, 54, who managed to survive in a small pocket of rubble that used to be his two-story home in Minami Ward.

Iwamoto was sleeping on the ground floor when the magnitude-7.3 quake hit but was extracted by rescue workers roughly 30 minutes later.

“It (the rescue) felt so long. I’m so thankful that at least I’m alive,” Iwamoto said.

In the village of Minamiaso, Koki Shibata, a 21-year-old student at Tokai University, got buried when his two-story apartment building collapsed but was rescued about an hour later when his neighbors and the owner located him by calling his name and broke through the debris with hammers and crowbars.

Shibata said the ceiling of his first-floor unit fell on him after two big jolts.

“I could not stand, and the next thing I knew, I was buried,” he said.

“My friends encouraged me (to hang on) so I didn’t feel (the rescue) took a long time,” Shibata said. “I’m really grateful and glad to be alive. But I am worried as some of my friends seem to be still trapped in the apartment.”

Most of the building’s residents are Tokai University students.

A woman living across the street saw at least five students rescued but said there still seemed to be people trapped underneath. Tokai University said six apartment buildings near its Aso campus, including the building where Shibata lived, had been damaged and two students were confirmed dead.

In the town of Mashiki, which was heavily damaged by a magnitude-6.5 temblor Thursday night of maximum intensity, the houses half-destroyed by that quake were flattened by Saturday’s jolt and the subsequent aftershocks.

Many residents got buried after returning home after the first quake, when they found out power was restored.

“That was the final blow,” a local firefighter said of Saturday’s powerful quake. “With all these aftershocks, there is really no safe place anymore, including shelters.”

Megumi Sugita, 35, who took refuge with her family, said, “I can’t relax due to the repeated aftershocks. I hope (the quakes) will stop soon.”

Near Minamiaso, the Aso Ohashi bridge and a tunnel connecting the area with the city of Kumamoto also collapsed, paralyzing traffic and isolating some 60 guests at hot springs inns, a local inn association said.

At a park in Kumamoto’s Chuo Ward, several hundred evacuees screamed and trembled every time an aftershock hit. Covered in blankets, some were seen providing support to others with comforting words.

In neighboring Oita Prefecture, residents and travelers visiting the Yufuin area, famous for its hot springs, also spent a sleepless night in shelters after the earthquake destroyed homes and other buildings.


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