(Anamizu) Rescue workers in Japan face very unfavorable weather on Wednesday, while they are still trying to find survivors of the terrible earthquake which hit the center of the country on Monday, killing at least 64 people according to a new provisional report.
Along the roads, very damaged by subsidence or blocked by falling trees, large signs warn of possible landslides.
Authorities are calling for caution due to the heavy rains that have fallen since Wednesday morning and their consequences throughout the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture, a long, thin strip of land that extends into the Sea of Japan.
“Be vigilant for landslides until Wednesday evening,” warned the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA).
Some areas were made unstable by the major earthquake that occurred on New Year’s Day at 4:10 p.m. (2:10 a.m. Eastern Time), reaching a magnitude of 7.5 according to the American Institute of Geophysics ( USGS) and 7.6 according to the JMA.
But also by several hundred aftershocks – some also strong – since this earthquake, and the tsunami which followed on Monday with waves of more than a meter which swept away many boats, stranded on the quays, or the roads of the sea side.
Thousands of buildings on the Noto peninsula were entirely or partially destroyed by the disaster and may still be destroyed by aftershocks, making rescue operations difficult. At each alert, rescuers must urgently evacuate the rubble.
The human toll could rise further, as searches are expected to last several more days in these rural areas with villages that are difficult to access.
The survivors organize themselves in places to facilitate traffic when the road is in poor condition or when it is on a single lane.
Masuhiro Izumiya, the mayor of Suzu, said “virtually no homes” were still standing in part of this small town at the tip of the Noto Peninsula, according to television station TBS. “The situation is catastrophic.”
More than 31,800 people have taken refuge in accommodation centers set up in different villages, according to the authorities, and nearly 34,000 homes are still without electricity in Ishikawa department.
More than 115,000 homes in Ishikawa and two other departments are also deprived of running water, the Japanese government said on Wednesday.
“I am here (in a shelter) because I no longer have electricity, gas or water at home. And since there are always aftershocks, my house could collapse at any moment,” Yuko Okuda, 30, a resident of Anamizu, another small town on the Noto peninsula, told AFP.
“With an earthquake of magnitude 7.5, we should expect to have aftershocks for several months,” geologist Robin Lacassin, research director at the CNRS, told AFP on Tuesday.
The Ishikawa Department has asked Japanese people to stop calling loved ones affected by the earthquake, in order to preserve their phone batteries for essential calls.
Shinkansen, Japanese high-speed trains, have resumed service in central Japan since Tuesday after some 2,400 passengers spent hours – 24 hours for some – stranded on the tracks or in stations.
The region’s highways have also reopened, making it easier to restock food and essential goods, although road conditions are slowing deliveries.
“More than 40 hours have passed since the disaster. We have a lot of testimonies from people who need to be rescued,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Wednesday after a new crisis meeting.
“This is a race against time and we continue to do our best to save lives, our priority,” he recalled.
Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Japan is one of the countries with the most frequent earthquakes in the world.
The Japanese archipelago is haunted by the memory of the terrible 9.0 magnitude earthquake followed by a giant tsunami in March 2011 on its northeastern coasts, a disaster which left some 20,000 people dead or missing.
This disaster also led to the Fukushima nuclear accident, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986.
This time, the series of earthquakes caused only minor damage to the nuclear power plants installed along the coast, according to their operators.