National

Three years on, officials and residents pay their respects to victims of Kumamoto quakes

JIJI

Mashiki officials offered silent prayers on Tuesday for the victims of the powerful earthquakes that hit the town and other areas of Kumamoto Prefecture three years ago.

“We’ll place top priority on rebuilding the lives of afflicted people,” Mayor Hironori Nishimura said. “We expect post-disaster reconstruction will take 10 years, but we hope to shorten the period as much as possible.”

The municipal government called on employees at 10 municipal facilities to pray silently for the victims at 8:30 a.m.

At the makeshift town government building, some 50 workers stood in a line in a corridor of the second floor and offered prayers for one minute.

Mashiki was heavily damaged by the 6.5 magnitude foreshock that struck on April 14, 2016, and the 7.3 magnitude main shock two days later.

In the town, both temblors measured the highest reading of 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale.

According to the Mashiki government, the total death toll from the quakes in the town, including from indirect causes, stood at 45 as of Friday, and 3,473 people had been evacuated as of the end of March.

On Tuesday, municipal officials of the nearby villages of Minamiaso and Nishihara also offered silent prayers.

The death tolls came to 30 in Minamiaso and nine in Nishihara. The April 16, 2016, main shock also registered 7 in Nishihara.

Separately, residents of the Tateno district in Minamiaso paid tribute to victims of the disaster.

In the district, three people died in the quakes, including Nobuo Katashima, 69, and his wife. The couple’s house was washed away by some 10,000 tons of water from a quake-damaged tank on a hill.

Hiroshi Yamauchi, a friend of Katashima’s, visited the location where the house used to lie, and laid flowers and offered a one-minute prayer.

An evacuation advisory was in place in the Tateno district for one and a half years after the quakes. With local transportation networks damaged by the disaster, only 30 percent of local residents had returned to the district as of the end of last month.

Yamauchi, who now lives in a rental house in the town of Ozu, adjacent to Minamiaso, is planning to return to the district in September after rebuilding his house.

“Katashima and I had been friends since we were children. Residents in the district know each other,” Yamauchi said.

“I hope to maintain our bonds by, for example, offering information about local events to those who have left the district, so that we can achieve reconstruction,” he added.