Hundreds of troops armed with shovels and power-saws sifted through the splintered remains of a resort hotel in Japan Sunday in search of survivors after a powerful earthquake killed six people.
The Komanoyu hotel, a secluded inn with natural hot springs opened four centuries ago in northern Japan’s rolling hills, was reduced to a heap of wood and shattered furniture by Saturday’s quake.
A huge sheet of mud shoved the hotel’s tiled roof up to 30m from its original location, with seven guests or employees missing, feared trapped underneath.
“It’s more difficult than expected to deal with this mud,” said Masahiro Ishiba, a soldier heading a team of 300 soldiers and civilians who sawed through the debris and tried to dig a ditch to free the water.
“Right now we’re finding it tough to make much progress. But all of us are doing all we can,” he told public broadcaster NHK.
Six people were killed and more than 220 others injured in the earthquake, the most powerful to strike inland Japan in eight years, and measuring 7,2.
Another six people were missing elsewhere in northern Japan, according to NHK’s tally.
Dozens of people stayed overnight at several makeshift shelters set up in public buildings in Kurihara, a sprawling town of about 80 000 people located in a rice-growing region.
Most still had homes but lacked running water or simply were afraid, after more than than 260 aftershocks rocked the region.
With landslides snapping bridges and burying key roads with rocks and dirt, many of the 800 troops deployed to the region scoured by helicopter to find people cut off from the world.
Hidetsugu Takahashi (60) had come to this region 350km north of Tokyo to indulge in his hobby of photography when the quake struck.
He was airlifted to the main town of Kurihara from a country inn, where he said most guests spent the night in the candlelight in the lobby because the furniture was damaged in their rooms.
“I saw big rocks fall down that were as big as eight metres wide. It was so scary,” Takahashi said.
“I stayed inside my car at night because I was afraid of aftershocks. I couldn’t sleep,” he said.
At the heliport in Kurihara, two ambulances were on standby to take any injured to hospital, but most evacuees were content just having tea and snacks.
Kirino Miura (75) was airlifted along with her husband as the water level rose in a river next to their house.
“I saw rocks falling down from the cliffs. It’s frightening. We didn’t have any choice but to evacuate,” she said.
More than 330 people had been evacuated by Sunday morning. But about 30 people were resisting calls by authorities to leave, saying they had to take care of their farmland, said military spokesperson Lieutenant Shoichi Chiba.
“The administration is trying to persuade them to evacuate. It’s not as if we won’t take care of their land,” Chiba said.
The transport ministry said around five “quake lakes” had been formed after the earthquake, but it said all were relatively small and under control.
Quake lakes were a major problem after last month’s massive earthquake in China’s Sichuan province.
Japan endures about 20% of the world’s powerful earthquakes and has built an infrastructure intended to withstand the impact of tremors. – AFP