Kumamoto marks one month since devastating main earthquake


Kumamoto and other southwestern prefectures on Monday marked one month since the second of two massive earthquakes struck the region in quick succession, leaving a total of 49 people dead.

The second quake, believed to be the main temblor, registered magnitude 7.3 and came just two days after a magnitude-6.5 jolt that initially left nine people dead. One person remains unaccounted for and is feared dead.

Local officials offered silent prayers in the morning in the village of Minamiaso, Kumamoto Prefecture, where 15 people died in the quakes and ensuing mudslides.

“We’ve been given much support from around the country,” Deputy Mayor Issei Ichihara said, vowing to use his office to help secure shelter and temporary housing for evacuees.

As requested by the central government in October 2011, Minamiaso and seven other municipalities in Kumamoto Prefecture had picked candidate sites for constructing temporary housing in the event of a major disaster. The prefecture’s seven remaining municipalities, however, have yet to designate such sites, according to a Kyodo News survey.

Among the latter group, the city of Kumamoto and the town of Mifune have admitted to not being fully prepared.

The central government made the request after the devastating March 11, 2011, Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Minamiaso said it had designated four sites for temporary housing prior to the quakes but was forced to shift gears and construct them in different locations after the collapse of a major bridge in the village.

The larger quake occurred in the early hours of April 16 after many of the 40,000 evacuees from the April 14 quake had returned home from shelters, leading to greater numbers of casualties.

The Meteorological Agency had initially downplayed the chances of another major quake striking the same area within three days of April 15. It said the odds of this occurring were just 20 percent.

As of Sunday, roughly 87,000 buildings had been recorded as damaged or destroyed, with some 10,000 people having yet to return home. More than 1,400 seismic events have been recorded by the Meteorological Agency since April 14.

Construction of more than 1,000 temporary dwellings has already begun, with the prefecture of Kumamoto securing a budget for 2,100 units and the city separately earmarking funds for an additional 800 units.

The final two nursery schools in the prefecture that had been closed resumed operations Monday. The last remaining evacuation center in neighboring Oita Prefecture was closed Monday.