• Kyodo

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Kumamoto Prefecture on Tuesday marked the fourth anniversary of two massive earthquakes that killed 275 people, with a ceremony scaled down amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Twenty-six participants, including those who lost family members in the disaster, observed a moment of silence at the Kumamoto Prefectural Government office, with the number of attendees reduced from 350 last year. Spaces between seats were widened to minimize person-to-person contact and help prevent infections.

Only five guests, including the prefectural assembly chairman, were invited to the ceremony, and flower offerings by the general public after the event were also canceled.

"We must appreciate ordinary life and seize the day," said Katsunori Uchimura, 50, who lost his father Masakatsu, 77, in one of the earthquakes, representing families of the disaster victims.

On April 14, 2016, a magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck the region, followed by another reaching magnitude 7.3 two days later.

After his father died, Uchimura established a construction company in the Kumamoto village of Nishihara and helped rebuild the area. His father lost his life when he was buried under his collapsed house.

In the town of Mashiki, which was hit hardest by the quakes, officials observed a moment of silence at the town hall. Stands were set up for local people to lay flowers.

With more than 200,000 residences damaged by the quakes, over 3,120 people were still living in temporary housing as of late March. A total of 1,715 public housing units for people affected by the disaster had been completed as of last month.

The reconstruction of transport infrastructure is expected to make significant progress in the Aso area this fiscal year, which began April 1.

A closed section of the JR Hohi Line is scheduled to reopen around August, and reconstruction of a major bridge in the village of Minamiaso is expected to be completed next March.

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