Snow hampers rescues and aid delivery to isolated communities after Japan earthquakes kill 128 people

WAJIMA, Japan –

Rescuers worked through snow to bring supplies to isolated villages, six days after a powerful earthquake hit western Japan, killing at least 128 people. Heavy snow is expected in Ishikawa Prefecture later on Sunday and overnight, adding to the urgency.

After Monday’s 7.6 magnitude quake, 195 people were still missing, a slight decrease from the more than 200 previously reported, and 560 people were injured. Hundreds of aftershocks occurred and shook the Noto peninsula, where the earthquakes were concentrated.

Taiyo Matsushita walked three hours through the mud to reach a supermarket in the city of Wajima to buy food and other supplies for his family. The house where he lives with his wife and his four children, and about 20 nearby houses, are among more than a dozen communities isolated by the landslides.

The power went out and, within hours, they couldn’t even use their cell phones, he told Jiji Press.

“We want everyone to know that aid is not reaching some places,” Matsushita said, according to Jiji Press. “We feel very attached to this community. But when I think about my children, it’s hard to imagine that we can continue living here.”

On Saturday night, a woman in her 90s was rescued from a ruined house in Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture, after 124 hours trapped in the rubble. She was greeted with shouts of encouragement, although darkness and a long sheet of blue plastic blocked her from view.

The chances of survival decrease considerably after the first 72 hours.

Of the deaths, 69 occurred in Wajima, 38 in Suzu, 11 in Anamizu and the rest, in smaller numbers, distributed among four towns. Firefighters and other disaster officials were trying to reach nine people believed to be buried under collapsed houses in Anamizu, Japanese media reports said.

Ishikawa officials say 1,370 homes were completely or partially destroyed. Many of the houses in that western coastal region of the main island are old and wooden. Cars lay strewn on cracked and potholed roads. Snow covered debris and roads. Cables hung from crooked poles.

The more than 30,000 people who were evacuated to schools, auditoriums and community facilities slept on cold floors. They trembled with fear from the aftershocks. They prayed that their missing loved ones would be safe. Others wept softly for those who had died.

Mikihito Kokon, one of those who had evacuated, was worried about what the snowfall would do to his house, which was still standing but in ruins.

“You don’t even know where to start or where the entrance is,” he sighed.

Some people lived in their cars and long lines formed at gas stations. Food and water supplies were scarce. Concerns grew about snow and rain, increasing the risk of landslides and further damage, as snow accumulating on roofs can level barely standing houses.

A fire that raged for hours destroyed much of Wajima and a tsunami swept away homes and swept cars into muddy waters.

“We’re all doing the best we can to get by, helping each other, bringing things from home and sharing them with everyone,” Kokon said. “This is how we live now.”

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