Wajima, Japan (AFP) March 26, 2007
Masayuki Omoto doesn't know why he got out of his house when he did. But the 73-year-old survived being buried under the rubble -- and now tells himself life or death is all a matter of luck.
The retired construction worker's wooden home was at first partly damaged by the powerful earthquake Sunday on Japan's western coast. He got out and decided to start repairs.
"Seconds later, I saw my house completely collapse just metres away from me. I can't find any words to describe it," a trembling Omoto said of the aftershock that turned his home into a heap of debris.
"It was literally an escape by the skin of my teeth," Omoto said, his eyes turning red.
He quietly shook his head over and over. "I still don't know why I decided to get out at that moment. Life and death is just a matter of chance."
One person was killed and nearly 200 others injured on the Noto peninsula in Sunday's 6.9-magnitude earthquake, which was followed by a string of strong aftershocks.
More than 200 buildings were damaged and 25 were completely destroyed in the city of Wajima, many of them wooden houses with heavy tiled roofs, officials said.
Japan is used to earthquakes, enduring 20 percent of the world's strong tremors and constructing buildings to withstand powerful jolts.
But as residents here found out, when powerful tremors strike, much is still left up to chance.
Shogoro Hashiura, whose firm produces wooden chips for paper production, was thankful that the quake struck on the weekend, when none of his 15 employees or family members were in harm's way.
He was working alone at his office just next to the storage area, whose roof slid off scattering wooden chips all over the yard.
"I'm scared as I wonder what would have happened if it were a weekday," the 81-year-old Hashiura said.
"I don't quite remember what really happened, because I just stayed focused on sliding under the table," he said as he showed how he hid himself following the quake.
"It was really shocking and horrible. I lost my storage but no one was killed or injured. I'm still thankful for small mercies."
Japan constantly lives in fear of "The Big One" predicted to hit a major urban area.
A 7.3-magnitude earthquake in the western city of Kobe in January 1995 killed 6,437 people, while 67 people were killed and hundreds injured in 2004 in a 6.8-magnitude quake in the Niigata region, northwest of Tokyo.
"I never dreamt such a huge earthquake would happen to us," said Yasuei Muro, a 64-year-old owner of a hardware store, which was partially damaged.
"I watched the scenes from the Kobe earthquake on TV and saw it as someone else's trouble," he said.
"But after experiencing this one, I realise how scary an earthquake is and that what you can do is limited. The survival of my family and my employees owes a lot to luck."
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But the region has been hit by more than 200 aftershocks since Sunday's initial 6.9-magnitude earthquake, including tremors Monday that registered 4.8 and 5.3 on the Richter scale, the Meteorological Agency said.
"I'm so scared that I can't even go into my own house," said Kazuko Mori, staring at her half-collapsed home in Wajima, around 300 kilometres (200 miles) west of Tokyo.
More than 2,600 people spent a restless night in emergency shelters after hundreds of buildings were damaged here on the Noto peninsula, which is on the west coast of Japan's main island of Honshu.
"I couldn't sleep well last night as I woke up with fear every time an aftershock occurred," said Chiezo Seto, a 56-year-old rice cracker maker.
"My wife and I just finished cleaning up the shattered glass inside my house and now I'm working on fixing my factory," Seto said. "I'm afraid it will take some time to get back to normal."
Some residents tried to shovel away rubble scattered on roads, while others waited outside and looked at one another nervously after every aftershock.
"There's no electricity, no water, no telephone line. We're at a total loss," said Misako Nishikawa, a 65-year-old housewife, who lives on a pension with her husband adjacent to a house that suddenly collapsed Monday.
"I'm too scared to enter my house as aftershocks were shaking it," Nishikawa said. "I don't know how long it will take to recover our lives."
One woman, 52-year-old Kiyomi Miyakoshi, died after being hit by a stone lantern in a garden. At least 214 people were injured, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.
Japan, one of the most quake-prone countries, sets strict standards for buildings to be earthquake resistant, helping to keep casualties low in the latest disaster.
But officials warned that more damaged buildings -- many of them older wooden homes with heavy roof tiles -- may collapse due to aftershocks.
"We urge rescue personnel and others who are involved in recovery efforts to use extreme caution," Meteorological Agency official Takeshi Hachimine said.
More than 600 buildings were damaged, 57 of them completely destroyed, the disaster agency said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to assist the victims.
"I will do my utmost to support the victims of the quake and to reconstruct the damaged region," Abe told a parliamentary committee.
One of the Noto peninsula's best-known sons, New York Yankees slugger Hideki Matsui, offered condolences and said his own family was fine.
"I am concerned. I hope there will be as little damage as possible," the baseball superstar said after a pre-season game in the United States.
Japan lies at the junction of four tectonic plates and endures about 20 percent of the world's most powerful earthquakes.
A 7.3-magnitude earthquake in the western city of Kobe in January 1995 killed 6,437 people, while 67 people were killed in 2004 in a 6.8-magnitude quake in the central Niigata region.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Wajima (AFP) Japan, March 26, 2007
Earthquake victims were spending a restless night in shelters early Monday as aftershocks continued to jolt Japan following a powerful quake that killed one person and injured about 170 others.
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