As rescuers dig through landslides, Hokkaido quake toll rises to 35, with another 2 presumed dead

Kyodo, AP

The death toll from a strong earthquake that rocked Hokkaido on Thursday rose to 35 on Saturday, while another 2 people are presumed dead after their heart and lung functions stopped, officials said.

According to officials from the Hokkaido Prefectural Government, three others remained unaccounted for in the town of Atsuma after an entire mountainside collapsed on their homes.

The region has slowly been restoring transport links and power had been reconnected to 99.3 percent of the 29.5 million houses hit by a blackout after the earthquake.

However, peak demand on weekdays could exceed the current maximum capacity of power generation plants in Hokkaido. Thus the prefectural government is now considering rolling blackouts and Gov. Harumi Takahashi has asked locals to conserve as much electricity as possible.

Officials said full repairs to the Tomato Atsuma power plant, Hokkaido’s main power source, could take up to a week.

“We’re trying to do it faster, but it will likely take a week,” industry minister Hiroshige Seko said.

Meanwhile, New Chitose Airport near Sapporo, the main gateway to the island, resumed international flights Saturday morning, the government said.

About 90 international flights were scheduled to arrive and depart at the airport during the day, the transport ministry said. The airport was expected to resume 90 percent of its domestic flights Saturday.

Rescuers used search dogs, backhoes and shovels as they dug through tons of mud and debris from the landslides triggered by the quake.

Tap water had been cut off at about 30,000 houses in 22 cities and towns, half of which are in Sapporo, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare ministry. Water supplies were expected to be reconnected by Sunday.

“There are no supplies, so the shop simply cannot function. It’s tough,” said Yasuhiro Kurosaki, a young father whose wife was cradling their infant son, outside a small supermarket in Atsuma, near the epicenter of the quake. Shelves inside the darkened shop were bare aside from a few boxes of potato chips.

Most residents sought meals, water and shelter at the local social services office.

Farther inland, unharvested rice fields stretched before a long expanse of hillside that had collapsed all at once, bringing tons of earth and timber down on homes that had been tucked along the edge of the mountain.

Some parts of Sapporo were severely damaged, with houses falling over and road surfaces cracked or sunken. A mudslide left several cars half buried, and the ground subsided in some areas, leaving drainpipes and manhole covers protruding by more than a meter in some places.

“This is shocking. I was always walking on this street and I had never imagined this road could collapse in such a way,” said resident Noriyuki Sumi.

“But, if you think positively, imagine if I was walking here when this took place. I might have lost my life. So, I try to think that I am lucky in this unfortunate situation.”

Japan has suffered a string of natural disasters in recent months. The quake came on the heels of a strong typhoon that lifted heavy trucks off their wheels and triggered major flooding in western Japan, and damaged Kansai International Airport, which is built on a man-made island in Osaka Bay.

This summer also brought devastating floods and landslides as a result of torrential rains to western regions and deadly hot temperatures across the country.