Rain forces suspension of search operations in Kyushu


Heavy rain forced search operations in Kyushu to be suspended Thursday, a week after the first of a series of strong quakes hit the area.

Ikuo Kabashima, governor of Kumamoto Prefecture, which was hit most severely by the disaster and counts 48 dead, pledged Thursday to step up efforts to secure public housing, hotels and ships to accommodate evacuees currently taking shelter in schools and elsewhere and to consider constructing temporary housing if necessary.

The quakes were centering on Kumamoto and the adjacent prefecture of Oita, and two people are still missing in the village of Minamiaso, Kumamoto Prefecture.

The Meteorological Agency warned Thursday that northern Kyushu, including Kumamoto and Oita prefectures, could be hit by thunderstorms, landslides and flooding, with possible rainfall of 40 mm to 70 mm per hour in both prefectures by the end of the day.

With more than 10,000 homes and other buildings flattened or damaged mainly in Kumamoto Prefecture, local governments in five other prefectures in Kyushu said they are ready to provide at least 2,340 units of public housing to quake survivors.

Of these units, 595 are in Miyazaki, 563 in Nagasaki, 533 in Fukuoka, 501 in Kagoshima and 148 in Saga.

Many of the units are being offered free of charge and some evacuees have already moved in, the local government said.

They told of the plans amid concerns about the health of survivors who have evacuated from their homes and taken refuge at shelters or in their vehicles.

Nearly 100,000 people in Kumamoto and nearly 1,000 in Oita remained evacuated as of Thursday morning.

The local water supply situation has been one factor hampering aid efforts, according to local governments and the Japan Water World Association.

About 80 percent of tap water is groundwater in Kumamoto Prefecture, but the groundwater has been muddied apparently due to the quakes, they said.

As there is no system in place for filtering such muddy water, local authorities must wait for the mud to settle by itself, they said.

“We don’t know how long it will take for the mud to settle and for the water to become clear again,” a local official said.

Although damage to water pipes and pumps has mostly been fixed, water cannot be used for drinking because of its quality, according to the health ministry. About 90,000 households remain without tap water in Kumamoto Prefecture.

On Thursday, the town of Mashiki in Kumamoto Prefecture, which has suffered the most damage, began accepting volunteers to help residents at shelters and sort out relief goods.

About 200 volunteers from in and outside the prefecture arrived in the rain and headed to shelters in groups after receiving instructions.

Ranko Saeki, 74, who joined her grandchild, said, “I hope the reconstruction can be finished early so that the lives of the affected people can return to normal.”

The city of Kumamoto plans to begin accepting volunteers on Friday. Minamiaso has already accepted volunteer helpers from within the prefecture.

More than 750 seismic events in the region ranging from minor jolts to strong earthquakes have been detected by the agency since the magnitude-6.5 quake on April 14. The biggest was a magnitude-7.3 quake early Saturday morning.

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