Japan, Apr 18: The US military prepared to join relief efforts today in disaster-stricken areas of southern Japan as authorities struggled to feed and care for tens of thousands of people who sought shelter after two powerful earthquakes that killed at least 42 people.
Ten people remained missing, and rescuers were redoubling search efforts on the southern island of Kyushu, where many areas were cut off by landslides and road and bridge damage. Forecasts for heavy rains, which would make land and collapsed buildings even more unstable, added to the urgency of the searches.
Toyota Motor Corp said it would shut down most of its vehicle production in Japan over the course of this week because of parts shortages stemming from the earthquakes. Nissan Motor Co also halted production at some facilities. With 180,000 people seeking shelter, some evacuees said that food distribution was a meager two rice balls for dinner.
"We are doing our best," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told lawmakers when challenged by the opposition over the government's handling of the relief effort.
"This is the way it is. Today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, we will be working toward a full recovery," Abe said. US Forces, Japan said troops were preparing to provide aerial support for Japan's relief efforts. The US has major Air Force, Navy and Marine bases in Japan, and stations about 50,000 troops in the country. Many whose homes were not seriously damaged sought shelter as the area was rocked by more than 500 aftershocks from two big quakes that struck late Thursday night and in the early hours of Saturday.
"Without water and electricity, we can't do anything. Without the TV on, we can't even get information about disaster relief operations," said Megumi Kudo, 51, standing in a line for water outside a community center in Aso city. "We can't take a bath, not even a shower."
Kudo came with his wife and a 12-year-old daughter, carrying several empty gallon-size plastic containers to get water while his 80-year-old mother waited at home. "It's better to be prepared than sorry, as we learned the hard way," he said. His house survived, despite major roof damage, but like many, the family was sleeping in their cars.
A few blocks away, 75-year-old Tokio Miyamoto said he was wary of sleeping alone in his house, so he was lugging his futon bedding every evening to an evacuation center.
"It's a hassle, but it's too scary to be alone," he said. Miyamoto said the evacuation center was short of food, with only a couple of rice balls per meal for each person. Japanese media said most of those missing were in Minamiaso, a mountain village southwest of 1,592-meter (5,223-foot) Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan. There, dozens of troops, police and other rescue workers were shoveling debris and searching through places where they may have been buried.