Three Japan quake victims found after four days
In a drama played out on live television, a mother and her two toddlers were found trapped in their car under tons of rock and mud on Wednesday nearly four days after a deadly earthquake hit northern Japan.
National broadcaster NHK said all were alive when found, but as darkness fell and rescue efforts went on, Kyodo news agency said the mother's pulse could no longer be detected.
Orange-clad rescue workers toiled for hours to shift huge boulders that had crashed onto the family's white van to rescue two-year-old Yuta Minagawa, gently passing him from hand to hand before airlifting him by helicopter to hospital.
Aftershocks jolted the area as workers held up spotlights and used shovels, crowbars and brute force to try to free the boy's three-year-old sister Mayu and their mother, Takako.
The family were on their way home from visiting friends when the quake struck on Saturday, killing at least 31 people and injuring more than 3,400 in the rural Niigata region, 150 miles north of Tokyo.
More than 100,000 survivors of Saturday's quake, many of them elderly, were still in makeshift shelters, enduring another day of stress and fatigue, raising fears the death toll could rise.
News of the rescue operation came just hours after another powerful tremor jolted the region.
Later aftershocks shook the area as the rescue went on.
At least one building collapsed in Ojiya, one of the towns hardest hit by Saturday's big tremor.
The latest big tremor, which had a magnitude of 6.1, hit at 10.40 a.m. (2140 GMT) and was also felt strongly in Tokyo, but there were no reports of damage in the capital.
A man in the hard-hit town of Ojiya was taken to hospital after apparently suffering a stroke, NHK said.
Four others were injured, media said.
About 1,000 people were briefly evacuated from the main train station in Nagaoka, which has a population of about 200,000.
"I thought the roof might come down on us," an elderly woman in Nagaoka said on television.
Many of the injured in Saturday's quake and subsequent series of big aftershocks were elderly people who had suffered heart attacks, strokes or shock, and authorities were concerned that cold weather and fatigue could claim more lives.
"There weren't too many quakes yesterday but today's was big. I was scared. I hope this settles down. We can't go home," 58-year-old Yoko Sakamaki told Reuters at high school gymnasium where she had been evacuated.
TV coverage showed high-rise building in Nagaoka swaying.
Women, many clutching small children, ran for the door of an evacuation center in the town of Tokamachi, TV showed.
People including elderly and children at another evacuation center flattened themselves on the floor as the latest tremor struck, many calling out: "I'm scared, I'm scared."
All train service in the Niigata area was temporarily halted and Niigata airport suspended operations and mobile phones were affected, national broadcaster NHK said.
Tokyo Electric Power Co said that all of its nuclear reactors in Niigata were operating normally. But some areas lost power again and mobile phone service was disrupted, media said.
The focus of Wednesday's big tremor was 6 miles below the surface of the earth, the Japan Meteorological Agency said, adding that there could be more large aftershocks.
John Bellini, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado, said the initial quake had been followed by more large aftershocks than was usually the case.
"These could go on for days or weeks," he said.
The earthquake and aftershocks have raised concerns about the economic impact of a recent natural disasters in Japan.
Japan has also been hit by a record 10 typhoons this year, including one that killed at least 84 people last week.
The government has said it may have to compile an extra budget to cover the costs of recent natural disasters.
Tokyo share prices slipped into negative territory after the quake shook the capital, one of the world's major financial centers, but prices recovered a bit in afternoon and the Nikkei average closed 0.18 percent higher.
The yen got small jolt too, but also recovered.
"Investors just shied away after the quake, feeling uneasy," said Masaharu Sakudo, adviser at Tachibana Securities.
The magnitude of the earthquakes was measured according to a technique similar to the Richter scale, but adjusted for Japan's geological characteristics. The U.S. Geological Survey rated the latest quake at magnitude 5.7 on its own scale.
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.