Japan: Woman in 90s rescued after 5 days as snow hinders quake relief


Sunday, 7 January 2024 (18:11 IST)
A woman in her 90s was rescued against all odds on Saturday after being trapped under rubble for a little over five days following the powerful earthquake which shook central Japan on New Year's Day.
Hope of finding survivors tends to wane dramatically three days after such a disaster, given that most trapped people have no access to fluids, but the pensioner spent five days beneath the wreckage of a collapsed house in the city of Suzu on the hard-hit Noto Peninsula which extends northwards into the Sea of Japan before being rescued.
In police footage from the scene, rescuers could be heard calling to the woman to "hang in there!" and "stay positive!" while telling her: "You're going to be OK!"
A Tokyo police spokesman confirmed to the AFP news agency that she was rescued by officers from Tokyo and Fukuoka after 124 hours before being taken to hospital where she was able to hold a conversation, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Others were less fortunate. As of Sunday, the death toll had risen to 128, and with 195 others reported missing, that figure was still expected to rise. A further 560 people have been injured.
The earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.5, produced shockwaves which toppled buildings, sparked a major fire and triggered meter-high tsunami waves.
As of Sunday, officials in the local prefecture of Ishikawa said that 1,370 homes — many of which are made of wood in that part of Honshu — had been completely or partially destroyed, leaving 30,000 people in 366 government shelters. As of this weekend, a further 20,000 households remained without electricity while over 66,400 families were without water.
Many remote communities have been cut off with roads blocked or damaged by around 1,000 separate landslides. On Sunday, cold rain, sleet and snow hampered recovery efforts even further.
Prime Minister Kishida: 'Need to improve conditions in shelters'
"The first priority has been to rescue people under the rubble, and to reach isolated communities," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in an interview with NHK on Sunday, adding that the military has dispatched small groups of troops to each of the isolated communities on foot.
"In parallel with these efforts, we need to improve the conditions in shelters, and the health of those suffering in the disaster," Kishida said, warning that they may have to remain in temporary accommodation for an extended period.
Located close to the Pacific "Ring of Fire," Japan experiences hundreds of minor earthquakes every year, the majority of which cause no damage due to strict construction regulations which have been in force for several decades.
Indeed, in the coastal village of Akasaki, where houses are built with horizontal wooden slats and few glass windows in order to withstand the rough environment at the tip of a headland, no houses collapsed at all.
The last earthquake to cause more than 100 deaths was in 2016 in the southern city of Kumamoto, when 276 people lost their lives.
In 2011, a 9.1-magnitude quake triggered a massive tsunami that hit Japan's eastern coast, leaving an estimated 18,500 people dead or missing. It also prompted a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

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