Abe Boosts Rescue Team as Japan Quake Death Toll Rises to 41

  • Over 196,000 people evacuated in worst disaster since 2011
  • Abe tells rescuers to ensure water, food supply, medical care

Death Toll Rises in Japan as Economic Impact Spreads

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe increased the number of rescue workers to 25,000 in the earthquake-stricken south of the country where 41 people have died since Thursday in the nation’s most devastating natural disaster since March 2011.

More than 1,000 people were injured and over 196,000 evacuated in the Kumamoto and Oita prefectures, according to statements from the local government offices. Abe said on public broadcaster NHK that he had asked rescuers to ensure the supply of water, food and medical services to those affected as heavy rains fell in Kyushu, where a magnitude-7.3 quake occurred at 1:25 a.m. local time Saturday.

Intensity map of Kumamoto earthquake on Saturday April 16, 2016, at 1:25 a.m. JST
Intensity map of Kumamoto earthquake on Saturday April 16, 2016, at 1:25 a.m. JST

The temblor on Saturday -- which was stronger than the one that hit the island Thursday -- was followed by a series of aftershocks that were almost at the top of Japan’s intensity scale. The shaking was most powerful close to Mt. Aso, an active volcano and popular tourist site. Television footage showed houses flattened and landslides that had swallowed up roads and railway lines in the village of Minamiaso, where at least 11 people are missing, NHK reported on Sunday.

The U.S. military had offered the government help with air transport, Abe said, and he plans to accept it after evaluating the needs of the local people.

The government is preparing to relocate evacuees to nearby hotels and build shelters for them, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda said in a news program aired by Fuji television on Sunday. Agriculture Minister Hiroshi Moriyama was preparing to send enough food to the damaged areas to feed 131,000 people, including bread and instant noodles, as well as a ton of milk powder, Kyodo News reported.

There was no impact from the earthquakes on nearby nuclear plants, with Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai facility, which houses the only operating reactors in Japan, continuing to run. Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa said Saturday the plant doesn’t need to be shut down at this point.


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Suffering Damage

Kumamoto airport has been closed after suffering damage, with all domestic and international flights canceled Sunday. About 78,500 homes in Kumamoto prefecture were without power as of 6:00 a.m., according to the economy ministry.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference that significant damage is feared from the latest quakes and the government would do all in its power to assist. He said no damage has been reported to the nuclear power stations in Kagoshima and Saga prefectures. The prime minister’s trip to Kumamoto planned for Saturday has been canceled following the new quakes, Suga said.

Speaking in Washington, Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said he was monitoring the economic impact of the disaster, which he said was hard to estimate.

Some companies extended operational halts following Saturday’s quake. Sony Corp. stopped production of camera chips -- a key component in smartphones such as Apple Inc.’s iPhones -- as well as digital cameras at its plant in Kumamoto following Thursday’s temblor.

Suspending Production

Honda Motor Co. is suspending production at its motorcycle plant in Kumamoto through Monday. Nissan Motor Co. stopped output at its plant in Fukuoka after the latest quake as it assesses the impact on the facility and its supply chain. Toyota Motor Corp. had already halted output at three plants in Kyushu before the latest quakes.

Fujifilm Holdings Corp. halted production of electronic-display devices at its Kumamoto plant, according to spokesman Takahiro Taguchi. Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. has suspended some of its facilities in nearby Oita prefecture for safety checks. Lawson Inc. closed six of its 141 convenience stores in Kumamoto prefecture because of damage from the quake, according to the company statement.

All Nippon Airways Co. and Japan Airlines Co. will cancel all flights in and out of Kumamoto through Sunday, according to the companies.

Nikkei 225 Stock Average futures traded in Osaka extended losses after the latest earthquake, closing down 0.9 percent at 3 a.m. Saturday in Tokyo.

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