National

Kumamoto residents mark second quake anniversary

Kyodo, JIJI

Kumamoto residents renewed their commitment Saturday to increase reconstruction efforts two years after a string of earthquakes killed more than 250 people in the prefecture and displaced thousands more in the region.

The disaster began with a magnitude 6.5 quake on April 14, 2016, and was followed by a 7.3 temblor two days later, along with hundreds of aftershocks.

More than 190,000 people were forced to evacuate.

“I was able to live until now as a member of the community, supported by the strong bonds with my neighbors, friends, relatives and my sisters,” Ryoko Matsuno, representing the families of the victims, said at the commemorative ceremony at the Kumamoto Prefectural Government building.

Matsuno, 61, lost her 84-year-old mother in the April 16 quake. Her father, who managed to survive the temblors, died last July at age 86 while still under evacuation as their house was destroyed.

“On the occasion of the second memorial service, I would like to report that we are determined to face forward and walk on. Also, we have a great hope in young generations that their vitality will create the future of Kumamoto,” she said.

Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima pledged to forge ahead with efforts to restore quake-hit areas as soon as possible.

“The reconstruction is steadily progressing step by step. It is our mission to regenerate Kumamoto and hand it to the next generation,” Kabashima said.

When the memorial siren wailed on a rainy morning across the city of Kumamoto at 10 a.m., residents and others observed a moment of silence to commemorate the victims.

In addition to the 267 deaths directly and indirectly linked to the quakes in Kumamoto and Oita prefectures, more than 190,000 homes were damaged, with around 43,000 destroyed or heavily damaged. Around 38,000 people remain displaced.

A project to build about 1,735 housing units for the Kumamoto victims started in January, but many will have to wait until March 2020 for the units to open.

Since the two-year contracts for temporary housing are expected to begin expiring soon, the prefectural government must come up with new measures for residents.

Sakura Miyazaki, 39, lost her 4-year-old daughter, Karin, who was hospitalized for heart disease.

“I feel like the quakes happened only yesterday. I will try to live every day of my life without showing a sad face,” she said.

The ceremony was attended by 78 kin of the victims and 319 other people including Kabashima, state minister for disaster management Hachiro Okonogi, and Keiichi Ishii, minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism.

Even after two years, some of the region’s transportation networks have not fully recovered.

National Route 57, which links the city of Kumamoto with the Aso region in the northeast, remains partially closed. The Hohi Main Line of Kyushu Railway Co., or JR Kyushu, and Minamiaso Railway Co.’s single line are also partially closed.

At iconic Kumamoto Castle, which also sustained heavy damage, work to install new shachihoko (mythical half-fish creature) ornaments on its towers started earlier this month.