Takatsuki residents mourn death of 9-year-old girl, as cleanup in quake-hit Kansai continues

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

They came to offer flowers, juice and silent prayers in memory of a 9-year-old girl — some touched by the tragic death of a child they had never seen or met, others by the loss of a neighbor.

As the cleanup continued Tuesday across the Kansai region following Monday’s magnitude 6.1 earthquake centered in Takatsuki, residents of the town stopped to pay their respects at a makeshift memorial to Rina Miyake, who had been on her way to her elementary school when a concrete wall surrounding the school’s swimming pool collapsed and killed her.

“It was such a tragedy,” said Haruo Kurikoma, 81, who lives nearby but said he did not know Miyake. He added that the incident had many worried about what would happen to homes and structures in the area if aftershocks continue.

“I felt about two dozen aftershocks yesterday and this morning, and we’re wondering what will happen if they continue,” he said.

The tributes came as — outwardly — life in Takatsuki, which lies between Osaka and Kyoto prefectures, appeared to be improving on Tuesday. Trains from Takatsuki Station, which had been shut down just 24 hours earlier, were running almost normally, although express trains were still behind schedule.

But concerns about aftershocks lingered, while households without gas wondered how much longer they would have to wait.

Water supplies had yet to be restored in parts of the cities of Takatsuki and Minoo on Tuesday, prompting local authorities to dispatch water trucks.

Some 112,000 households in the prefecture were without gas as of Tuesday morning. Osaka Gas Co. said the supply is expected to be back on at all affected households by next Monday.

A few shops beside Takatsuki station remained closed due to the quake, but most were open for business. Damage to buildings, houses and other structures appeared minimal.

Roads connecting Takatsuki to Osaka and Kyoto were also mostly undamaged, and vehicle traffic was normal.

“We have fresh water and getting food and supplies isn’t a problem. Some shops in and around Takatsuki ran short on food items yesterday, though,” said local residents Tatsuyuki Miyazato and Tomomi Oso.

“Our house did shake quite a bit, but damage was minimal and everybody was OK,” said Oso.

A smaller earthquake occurred in the same area in the early hours of Tuesday as many spent a sleepless night at evacuation centers set up in the prefecture.

The number of evacuees stood at about 1,700 as of 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, according to the Osaka prefectural government, but many were returning home later in the day.

Sanae Ichikawa and her two children Akane, 10, and Masaru, 8, spent the night in a local elementary school that had been turned into an evacuation center.

By Tuesday morning, about 20 people remained at the school, Takatsuki officials said.

Ichikawa said she and her family would be heading home later Tuesday, adding that she was unsure when her children’s school would reopen.

“But it will be a relief to go home and sleep in our own beds tonight. However, we were told that the gas won’t be back on until next week, which is going to make it tough to take a bath,” she said.

Others in Takatsuki used the re-establishment of rail links to travel to either Osaka or Kyoto Tuesday to go shopping.

“There were a number of household items we had that were damaged and we need to restock the kitchen, so it’s off to Osaka for a shopping trip today, which is what a lot of my friends are doing as well,” said Izumi Fukuda, a 38-year-old Osaka resident who said her family’s house in Takatsuki shook considerably but that there had been no injuries.

While authorities reported Monday that, in addition to Rina Miyake, the quake killed three people in their 80s, police said Tuesday that an 81-year-old woman in Takatsuki who had been listed as among the three elderly people who perished is now believed to have died from illness. The police also announced Tuesday that Norihiro Kusumoto, a 66-year old resident in Takatsuki, was killed by the quake.

A total of 334 houses have been damaged by the quake, according to a tally by the central government. Of these, 265 were in Osaka Prefecture, 64 in Kyoto , three in Nara and two in Hyogo.

Disaster management minister Hachiro Okonogi said he will lead a survey team to the area to assess the extent of the damage.

Information from Kyodo added