Rain and cold threaten Japan quake recovery efforts
Some 100,000 exhausted survivors of Japan's deadliest earthquake in a decade awoke in makeshift shelters for a third day on Tuesday as rain threatened to hamper relief efforts and trigger new landslides.
Aftershocks continued to rattle rural Niigata prefecture, 250 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, after the first big tremor on Saturday that killed at least 25 people and injured more than 2,700. Three people, including two children, were missing.
With weather and visibility deteriorating, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi called off a planned visit to the area.
While the number and strength of aftershocks was starting to taper off, authorities warned that it was still too early to relax and urged caution around quake-weakened buildings.
"I'm really tired. I want to get home and really rest," said a man at one evacuation centre, where people had spent the night crammed together sleeping on the floor.
Saturday's initial earthquake, with magnitude of 6.8, was the deadliest in Japan since the Kobe earthquake killed more than 6,400 people in 1995, and reminded Tokyo's 12 million residents that they too are vulnerable to a major quake.
Tens of thousands of people have already spent three nights in evacuation centres or in the open as the temperature fell below 10 degrees Celsius (50 F).
Many complained about a lack of food, but an official in Ojiya, the hardest hit town, told national broadcaster NHK that supplies were now sufficient. What was really needed, he said, was diapers, wet tissues and disinfectant.
Some slept in cars with engines running but many petrol stations were closed due to a lack of electricity to run pumps.
Others made the best of things by spending the night in a greenhouse to keep warm. Others camped in parking lots.
Rain was forecast to fall throughout much of the day and officials warned that even light rain could set off new landslides, forcing still more people to evacuate.
"Even a little rain at this point could really raise the danger of landslides," an official at an emergency centre set up by the Niigata local government told Reuters.
As of Tuesday, the number of people evacuated had risen to 98,000, media reports said.
ELDERLY AT RISK
A forecast fall in temperature below 10C raised concerns of health problems among the evacuees, many of whom are elderly.
Several of those who died are believed to have succumbed to ailments such as strokes brought on by fatigue and stress.
Police three people -- a 39-year-old woman, her three-year-old daughter and two-year-old son -- were missing.
"They may have been hit by landslides on the way back home from Niigata city by car," said a police spokesman.
Tohoku Electric, the regional utility, worked through the night to restore power but 36,550 households were still without service.
About 2,800 homes were completely or partly destroyed and more than 1,000 other buildings damaged, public broadcaster NHK said. Phone services were disrupted, but were being restored.
Some train lines were still halted and many roads were unpassable.
The tremors follow a record 10 typhoons to hit Japan this year, including one that killed at least 80 people last week.
More than 7,000 deaths could be expected in Tokyo if the city was hit by a magnitude 7.2 quake, experts have said.
Although the toll from the Niigata quake was relatively low, media said there were still lessons to be learned.
"The government's earthquake readiness has been centred mainly on large cities up to now," the daily Tokyo Shimbun said. "However, preparation in rural areas is clearly lagging.
"This has been shown to be a huge blind spot."
The magnitude of the earthquakes was measured according to a technique similar to the Richter scale but adjusted for Japan's geological characteristics.
Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world's most seismically active areas. The country accounts for about 20 percent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.