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Psychological Stress is Quake’s Latest Toll

January 27, 1995

KOBE, Japan (AP) _ Apologizing for the government’s slow earthquake response, a top army commander wept openly. ``It was regrettable we could not save more lives,″ said Lt. Gen. Yusuke Matsushima, wiping away tears.

The mental strain on 300,000 homeless quake survivors living amid the ruins of Kobe in tents and government buildings may be demonstrated less dramatically, but it is just as devastating.

Psychiatrists are trying to soothe shattered nerves by handing out flowers and stuffed animals. They’re trying to create a ``healing environment,″ said Dr. Kazue Takayanagi of Tokyo’s Nippon Medical University.

``For many disaster victims, flowers are just as important as food,″ he said.

Survivors also face a new threat to their physical health _ flu.

Another 575 cases were reported Thursday alone, up from 144 reported Wednesday, said regional health official Mikio Maeda.

The death toll in the Jan. 17 quake stood at 5,083 today, and 51 people were missing. More than 88,000 buildings were destroyed.

Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama has been accused of failing to take decisive action in the first critical hours. It took Japanese troops nearly 15 hours to get to the scene and begin rescue operations.

But Matsushima, army commander for central Japan, blamed the delay on poor communications. He said they kept him from getting detailed damage assessments. On Thursday, Matsushima was put in charge of the first major review of government emergency management policy in 24 years.

``I understand why people were so upset,″ he told reporters, with tears in his eyes. ``People said `Why didn’t you come help us sooner? Why weren’t you there?′ I understand, but it was the situation.″

In a show of support, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko will visit quake areas Tuesday, the Imperial Household Agency said today. They plan to survey damage in Kobe and other areas by helicopter, and visit several shelters.

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