World News

Old-aged woman pulled from rubble 5 days after Japan quake

A woman in her 90s trapped for five days under the rubble by a huge earthquake in central Japan was rescued against the odds, but snow and storms were expected to complicate relief efforts on Sunday.

At least 126 people died in the magnitude-7.5 tremor on New Year’s Day and its aftershocks – a toll that is sure to rise, with 222 others reported missing to local authorities.

The jolt and its aftershocks toppled buildings, sparked a major fire, and triggered tsunami waves of over a metre.

The hope of finding survivors usually fades three days after a destructive quake.

But the elderly woman spent five days under the wreckage of a collapsed house in the city of Suzu before being saved on Saturday.

She was taken to hospital for treatment and was responding clearly to questions, according to public broadcaster NHK.

“Hang in there!” rescuers were heard calling to the woman in police footage from the scene published by local media.

“You’re gonna be OK!” they shouted as rain fell around them. “Stay positive!”

A Tokyo police spokesman confirmed to AFP that the rescue had been carried out by officers from Tokyo and Fukuoka, but could not give further details.

Many communities on the Noto Peninsula, where Monday’s quake struck, have been cut off by damaged roads, with some of the estimated 1,000 landslides also blocking aid vehicles.

Cold rain was forecast to turn to snow by Sunday afternoon in the peninsula on the Sea of Japan side of the country’s main Honshu island.

HELICOPTER MISSIONS

The bad weather threatened to further hamper the challenging recovery mission of thousands of police, troops and other rescue workers.

It could also worsen conditions for more than 30,000 people in 366 government shelters as of Saturday, with relief materials slow to reach areas suffering water and power outages.

“The first priority has been to rescue people under the rubble, and to reach isolated communities,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in an interview with NHK on Sunday.

The military has sent small groups of troops to each of the isolated communities on foot, he said.

The government has also “deployed various police and fire department helicopters… to access them from the sky”, Kishida added.

“In parallel with these efforts, we need to improve the conditions in shelters, and the health of those suffering in the disaster,” because they may have to stay in place for extended periods, he warned.

In Anamizu city, rescuers in heavy-duty orange or blue waterproofs were seen carrying a body of a landslide victim covered in blue tarp under a toppled pylon.

And among the widespread destruction in the city of Wajima, the traditional red gate of one shrine remained standing, but the view through it was a now-familiar mess of splintered wood and toppled beams.

Japan experiences hundreds of earthquakes every year and most cause no damage, with strict building codes in place for more than four decades.

But many buildings are older, especially in rapidly ageing communities seen in rural areas like Noto.

The country is haunted by the monster quake of 2011 that triggered a tsunami, left around 18,500 people dead or missing, and caused a nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima plant.

-EWN

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