Ozu, Apr 17: The wooden home barely withstood the first earthquake. An even stronger one the next night dealt what might have been the final blow if not to the house, then to the Tanaka family's peace of mind.
The Tanakas joined about 50 other residents of the southern Japanese town of Ozu who were planning to sleep in their cars at a public park today after two nights of increasingly terrifying earthquakes that have killed 41 people and injured about 1,500, flattened houses and triggered major landslides.
"I don't think we can go back there. Our life is in limbo," said 62-year-old Yoshiaki Tanaka, as other evacuees served rice balls for dinner.
He, his wife and his 85-year-old mother fled their home after a magnitude-7.3 earthquake struck today at 1.25 am, just 28 hours after a magnitude-6.5 quake hit the same area.
Army troops and other rescuers, using military helicopters to reach some stranded at a mountain resort, rushed today to try to reach scores of trapped residents in hard-hit communities near Kumamoto, a city of 740,000 on the southwestern island of Kyushu.
Heavy rain started falling today night, threatening to complicate the relief operation and set off more mudslides.
"Daytime today is the big test" for rescue efforts, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said early today. Landslides had already cut off roads and destroyed bridges, slowing down rescuers. Nearly 200,000 homes were without electricity, Japanese media reported, and an estimated 400,000 households were without running water.
Kumamoto prefectural official Riho Tajima said that more than 200 houses and other buildings had been either destroyed or damaged, and that 91,000 people had evacuated from their homes.
Hundreds of people lined up for rations at distribution points before nightfall, bracing for the rain and strong winds that were expected. Local stores quickly ran out of stock and shuttered their doors, and people said they were worried about running out of food. Police in Kumamoto prefecture said that at least 32 people had died from today morning's earthquake. Nine died in the quake on Thursday night.
More than half the deaths were in Mashiki, a town on the eastern border of Kumamoto city that was hit hardest by the first quake. Japan's Kyodo news agency reported that four people were missing in Minamiaso, a more rural area farther east of Kumamoto where the landslides were triggered by the second quake.