Death Toll Passes 4,900, Rain Raises Fears Of Landslides
KOBE, Japan (AP) _ Kobe residents and rescue workers struggling to piece together the quake-ravaged city were fighting a new enemy Sunday: rain that threatened to trigger landslides and topple weakened buildings.
The death toll from Tuesday’s 7.2-magnitude quake, Japan’s deadliest in more than 70 years, was at 4,927, and hopes were fading for the 199 people still listed as missing. More than 25,600 were injured.
The search for survivors took on added urgency as the rain raised fears of landslides. More than 50,700 buildings were destroyed or badly damaged in the earthquake.
American and French rescuers used dogs to search the ruins of a collapsed elevated railway station but found neither bodies nor survivors.
``So far we’ve come up with zero″ in two days of searching, said Carolyn Hebard, who works with a German Shepherd as part of a U.S. disaster team based in Bernardsville, N.J.
Rainwater ran down makeshift tents onto muddy ground as helmeted workers moved through the city with tarps, desperately trying to channel the rain to minimize damage.
Elsewhere, homeless quake survivors frantically spread tarps over makeshift frames they’d strung together from scrap wood as water dripped down their faces.
Rain fell on and off through the afternoon, and the raw, wet cold compounded the misery of the thousands who had slept in open fields under makeshift tents.
Thousands of others were told to evacuate the city to lessen the burden on the rescue and rebuilding effort, and to help prevent a possible flu outbreak.
Virtually none of Kobe’s residents have natural gas to keep warm. Overcrowded hospitals, already lacking heat and running water, were preparing for new patients.
On Saturday, three people _ two 79-year-old men and a 63-year-old woman _ were rescued at two locations in the city, police said. There were no details about their conditions.
After widespread complaints of ineptitude, the government’s relief operation was in high gear, with hundreds of workmen clearing debris, repairing power lines and pouring fresh asphalt on damaged streets.
A crane removed pieces of a toppled highway as jammed traffic snaked around it.
Rescue workers were spreading tarpaulins and plastic sheets throughout the city in an attempt to channel the rain to where it would cause the least discomfort and do the least damage.
Officials of the local electric company were evaluating where it was safe for electricians, who have been working non-stop on sometimes treacherous power lines, to continue to restore electricity.
Small shops, a few banks and about 100 primary and secondary schools reopened Saturday for the first time since the quake. Electric power was restored to most parts of the city and even the traffic lights were functioning.
On Sunday, 17,000 homes were still without electricity _ down from over 100,000 days earlier. As many as 800,000 homes were without water.
Some 852,000 were still without gas for cooking and heating. Lines were closed over fears of dangerous ruptures and leaks.
Seiichi Sakurai, spokesman for the government relief effort, said engineers were identifying areas at risk of landslide. ``If people sense anything funny, we hope they’ll immediately go to an evacuation shelter,″ he said.
Weather forecasters Sunday were predicting an average of 1.2 inches of rain would fall before the rain stopped in the evening, but warned the rainfall could be twice that in some areas.
Saturday was the first non-working day since the quake, and tens of thousands of residents of Osaka and other western cities took advantage of the weekend to head to Kobe to check on friends and relatives and bring them food, blankets and other supplies.
Ferries, trains and highways were packed.
Masaru Inoue drove two days from the Tokyo suburb of Chiba to take his brother and his family out of Kobe. He found them living in their van parked along a heavily damaged street. But they refused to leave.
``We’re fine, we can manage here,″ Inoue’s sister-in-law, Shizuka Inoue, said as she rested in the van with the couple’s two young daughters. ``We don’t want to be a burden.″
About 200 others were camped out under open skies at the soccer field. Several of them were busy Saturday erecting makeshift shelters out of plastic sheets they had found to protect themselves from the rain.
Others in the group were foraging for food, which they shared with their fellow evacuees. ``We live together with the other people so we can survive this trauma together,″ said Masako Ohara. ``My concern is how long this will go on.″
The quake has prompted the Japanese to reconsider some of their long-cherished assumptions about the country’s ability to use its technological prowess as a defense against nature.
Another quake _ with a magnitude of 6.2 _ shook Japan’s northern island Hokkaido on Saturday, but there were no reports of casualties or damage. An aftershock measuring 4.1 jolted the Kobe area Saturday afternoon, but it, too, caused no damage.
Makiko Tanaka, director general of the Science and Technology Agency, on Saturday urged a review of all Japanese nuclear plants because ``anything beyond imagination can happen.″
Japan has at least 47 nuclear reactors and intends to use nuclear power to provide 45 percent of its electricity by 2010, up from about 28 percent now.
Its plants are built to withstand quakes, but the damage to infrastructure caused by the Kobe temblor has raised doubts about Japanese construction standards.
A nuclear plant in the Kobe area was inspected and found undamaged.