KUMAMOTO – Friday marked the first anniversary of strong earthquakes in Kumamoto Prefecture that caused more than 200 deaths. Governments have pledged to overcome the disaster and accelerate efforts at reconstruction.
One year after the earthquakes, including a magnitude-6.5 temblor on April 14 and a magnitude-7.3 quake two days later that also affected neighboring prefectures in Kyushu, more than 47,000 people are still displaced.
“Our grief will never be healed but we have managed to be alive today with support from lots of people,” Mayumi Tominaga, who represented the families of the deceased, said at a memorial service held at the Kumamoto Prefectural Government office.
Tominaga, 58, lost her 89-year-old mother, whose health deteriorated after she was forced to evacuate her home and spend the night in a car.
The earthquakes claimed 225 lives, including 170 people in Kumamoto and Oita prefectures who died from indirect causes, according to authorities.
Of the 170 people indirectly killed by the disaster, such as through a decline in health, at least 41, or 24 percent, had spent one night or more in a vehicle, Kyodo News has found.
The 41 deaths include six suspected of being caused by deep vein thrombosis, better known as economy class syndrome, after being driven from their homes due the quakes.
The evacuees chose to sleep in their cars to protect their privacy and weather any aftershocks.
The results of the survey, based on data collected from municipalities, suggest authorities need to factor in such public health risks and take preventive measures for the future.
The other indirect deaths included 26 people who were hospital patients when the quakes struck and died after being transferred to other facilities. These people accounted for 15 percent of all indirect deaths.
The number of people who were killed indirectly far exceeded the 50 who were killed directly by the earthquakes.
Of the 170 indirect deaths, more than 90 percent were 60 or older. Four committed suicide after developing psychological problems.
The quakes also completely or partially destroyed 42,000 homes, with up to 196,000 people forced to evacuate at one point.
“I hope that many more people will rise up by overcoming their grief and turning their agony into strength of spirit so that Kumamoto will be rebuilt into a hometown full of smiles and vigor,” Tominaga said.
About 370 people including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima attended Friday’s ceremony and observed a moment of silence.
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, who did not attend the memorial service, offered silent prayers for the victims at their residence in Tokyo, according to the Imperial Household Agency. The couple visited Kumamoto in May last year to meet evacuees.
Kabashima told the ceremony that he has been asking himself whether he had been “overconfident that a strong earthquake would never hit Kumamoto,” pledging to take all necessary measures to prepare for future disasters.
“We will pass down to the next generation a Kumamoto hometown that has been imaginatively reconstructed,” he also said.
Abe said the central government will extend support to “put people’s lives back in order and realize reconstruction as soon as possible.”
He also underscored the need for restoring infrastructure and Kumamoto Castle, which was seriously damaged as a result of the earthquakes. Some of the castle’s features are designated as important cultural assets.
Prior to the ceremony, the Kumamoto prefectural government conducted a drill based on a scenario that a powerful quake struck the region, involving around 3,800 officials.
Nearly 4,300 discernible tremors have occurred in the region since April 2016.
A government panel on earthquake research has warned that while seismic activity is declining, residents are likely to feel tremors for some time to come.