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Japan troops search mud as quake toll hits 10

by Staff Writers
Kurihara, Japan (AFP) June 16, 2008
Rescue workers hampered by giant mounds of mud pulled a man's body out of the remains of a devastated hot spring resort on Monday, bringing the death toll from Japan's earthquake to 10.

As the critical first three days for finding survivors drew to a close, ground water was seeping in this mountainous area of northern Japan, causing sludge to cover areas where rescue teams were searching.

Twelve people remain unaccounted for following Saturday's earthquake, which registered 7.2 on the Richter scale, making it the strongest to strike inland in the tremor-prone nation in eight years. Another 264 people were hurt.

The body of the 10th victim was pulled from the Komanoyu inn, a secluded resort in the woods that is now a swamp of mud and wooden debris, a police spokesman said.

More than 300 troops, police and firefighters worked from dawn with shovels and buckets in the hopes of finding survivors at the hotel, where three bodies were found a day earlier.

"We keep digging and digging, but we are still only seeing mud," army Major Yoshinobu Taguchi said. "We are shovelling the mud, putting it on wheelbarrows, and pushing it on a path we made for it."

He said rescuers were well aware that the possibility of finding survivors drops sharply 72 hours after a disaster.

"Rescue staff are becoming increasingly frustrated," Taguchi told AFP, adding that the unstable mud has prevented the workers from using heavy equipment.

Frustration also mounted at evacuation centres for local residents.

More than 300 aftershocks have been felt since Saturday in the earthquake zone, a region 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Tokyo which was formerly not thought to lie on a faultline.

Yoko Otachime, 35, spent a second restless night in a makeshift shelter with her three-year-old son after their home was damaged.

"Again last night I couldn't sleep well because of the aftershocks," she said, smoking a cigarette.

"They're giving us instant noodles, miso soup and rice balls, so we're healthy, but I miss my own home," she said.

"The worst thing here is the toilets because the water's stopped, so we have to use buckets to wash."

Internal Affairs Minister Hiroya Masuda, meeting with quake survivors at a shelter, pledged to take action.

"These people who are sheltered here have complained to me that there is no running water or electricity and that their houses are in shambles. We must restore their lifeline as soon as possible," he said.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said in Tokyo that he would likely visit the quake zone later this week.

Yukio Miura, 71, arrived at a shelter with his two granddaughters seeking water supplies to take back home.

"I haven't been able to have a bath since the earthquake. We're trying not to use up the water we have. We're not washing the dishes, we just wipe things off," he said.

Japan deployed 800 troops to the region, who plucked hundreds of people from their cut-off homes by helicopter, taking them to safety in the main regional town of Kurihara.

After working throughout the night, troops were able to clear away debris from one major road so that residents could return to their homes, said local official Katsuya Chiba.

But he said it would still take time to open up all of the roads to the public due to fears of renewed landslides.


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Quake hits car, electronics factories in northern Japan
Tokyo (AFP) June 15, 2008
Operations at a number of Japanese car and electronics makers remained suspended on Sunday as companies tried to repair damage from a powerful earthquake, officials said.

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