Abe visits quake-hit Kumamoto; service on key section of Kyushu bullet-train line resumes


Making his first visit to Kumamoto Saturday after the powerful earthquakes that hit the prefecture and other parts of central Kyushu roughly a week ago, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to throw his full support behind the survivors and those dealing with the aftermath.

Abe’s visit to Kumamoto coincided with the resumption of bullet train service Saturday in a key section of Kyushu Shinkansen Line, between Kumamoto and Hakata stations.

Although Abe’s visit to Kumamoto was originally planned for April 16 — two days after the first magnitude-6.5 quake hit —it was postponed after the stronger second quake measuring magnitude-7.3 struck the area in the early hours of that day, causing even more serious damage.

On Saturday, Abe flew to Kumamoto from Tokyo on an Air Self-Defense Force jet and visited a temporary shelter in the village of Minamiaso, one of the hardest-hit communities in Kumamoto Prefecture.

“I know you are worried about aftershocks, but (the government) is totally behind you,” the prime minister said in a conversation with an evacuee.

Abe also used the visit to encourage rescue workers and others dealing with the after-effects of the disasters and inspect the quake-hit areas of Mashiki and other communities aboard an SDF helicopter.

At a base for personnel engaged in search efforts in the town, Abe said, “Although your work entails risks, I expect you to complete your mission while watching out for secondary disasters.”

In a meeting with Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima, Abe promised that the central government will do its utmost to help relieve the anxiety of quake survivors and reconstruct the damaged communities through financial and other support measures.

Among the requests made by Kabashima, the governor asked for Tokyo’s support in repairing the badly damaged Kumamoto Castle, which residents call their spiritual center. The renowned castle suffered major damage to its tiled roof and stone walls.

Abe’s visit on Saturday coincided with another by opposition leader Katsuya Okada of the Democratic Party, who visited Mashiki to meet with evacuees.

Meanwhile, bullet-train service on the Kyushu Shinkansen Line resumed the same day along a key section linking Fukuoka and Kumamoto prefectures, reviving the transport artery blocked by the quake.

The restart of bullet-train service on the roughly 98 kilometers between JR Hakata and Kumamoto stations leaves the 74-km section linking Kumamoto Station and Shin-Minamata Station to the south the only section yet to be brought back to service.

The entire service on the high-speed line was halted when the first quake hit the area on April 14, leaving an out-of-service train derailed on tracks south of Kumamoto Station and damaging railway facilities elsewhere.

On Saturday morning, the platform was full of passengers anxious to board the train.

“Because we have a small child, taking bullet trains means a lot to us,” said Tsubasa Kiyota, 30, who was waiting for the service to resume with his wife Yumi, 20, and his 10-month-old son, Yu. “Bullet trains are fast and we don’t have to change trains so often.”

Kyushu Railway Co., the operator of the high-speed train service, is in the process of removing the derailed cars from the tracks and could finish the work as early as Saturday. But it remains unclear when service on the section between Kumamoto and Shin-Minamata will resume.

Service on the remaining section of the line linking Shin-Minamata and Kagoshima-Chuo Stations was resumed on Wednesday, although the number of trains in service was reduced from normal levels.

A total of 48 people died as a result of the quakes in Kumamoto. Eleven others are suspected to have died due to health issues triggered by stress and fatigue. Two people remain unaccounted for.

Tens of thousands of people who evacuated their homes have still not been able to return, having taken refuge in gyms and other facilities converted into temporary shelters. Furthermore, a number of people are still living in their cars.

Also on Saturday, AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda pledged ¥10 million out of his own pocket for quake survivors, he said through his management office.