The US military has joined relief efforts in southern Japan for areas devastated by two powerful earthquakes as local rescuers combed through debris looking for 10 people still reported missing.
Authorities said at least 42 people had died and nearly 1100 were injured in the two quakes that hit the region near Kumamoto city late on Thursday and early on Sunday.
Rescuers were redoubling search efforts on the southern island of Kyushu, where many areas were cut off by landslides and road and bridge damage. Forecasts for heavy rains, which would make land and collapsed buildings even more unstable, added to the urgency.
A US Army UC-35 aircraft landed on Monday at a Japanese military base near Kumamoto. Nine people died in the first, magnitude 6.4 earthquake, and 33 in the second quake, which registered 7.1, revised from an initial reading of 7.3.
“There are still missing people, so with the help of the US forces, we would like for the operations to go into effect as quickly and smoothly as possible,” said Colonel Masahiro Sugawara of the Joint Staff Council of Japan’s self-defence force.
The US side, whose Air Force, Navy and Marine bases are home to about 50,000 troops in Japan, was to provide aerial support from other regions in the effort to feed and care for tens of thousands of people seeking shelter.
The American military played a large role in rescue and relief during the March 2011 tsunami and earthquake disasters in northeastern Japan.
This time, Japan asked for help with airlifts into the area, said Jacqueline Hearne, a public affairs officer for the US Army. “We’re glad that we’re able to support in any way the Japanese government needs us.”
The disruptions caused by damage to buildings and roads, and by stoppages of electricity and water supplies, were reverberating beyond Kyushu as manufacturers suspended output and transport links were snarled.
Toyota Motor said it would shut down most of its vehicle production in Japan over the course of this week because of parts shortages stemming from the earthquakes. Nissan Motor and Honda Motor also halted production at some facilities.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defended his government’s handling of the crisis, as some of the 180,000 evacuees complained of having only rice balls and bread to eat.
“We are doing our best,” Abe told legislators when challenged by the opposition over the government’s handling of the relief effort.
“We are striving to improve living conditions for the people who have sought refuge.”
Many whose homes were not seriously damaged sought shelter as the area was rocked by more than 500 aftershocks.
“Without water and electricity, we can’t do anything. Without the TV on, we can’t even get information about disaster relief operations,” said Megumi Kudo, 51, standing in a line for water outside a community centre in Aso city. “We can’t take a bath, not even a shower.”
His house was intact despite major roof damage, but like many, the family was sleeping in their cars.
Japanese media said most of those missing were in Minamiaso, a mountain village southwest of 1592-metre Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan.
There, dozens of troops, police and other rescue workers were shovelling debris and searching through places where they may have been buried.
A few stretchers were on hand in case anyone was found alive.