09/07/2018, 16.05
JAPAN
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Rescue teams still searching for survivors buried in mud following Hokkaido quake

Nine people are confirmed dead, nine others are in very serious conditions, 24 are missing. Half of the island is still in the dark. Things are particularly difficult for seniors in high-rises. Caritas Japan is ready to act. Brother Narcisio, who has been in Japan for more than 50 years, has never seen anything like this quake. Another missionary notes that churches are intact but getting in touch with parishioners is hard.

Sapporo (AsiaNews) – Rescue team continue to dig in the mud uninterruptedly with little hope of finding survivors, following a earthquake that shook Hokkaido Island yesterday morning.

Nine people are confirmed dead, nine are in cardiopulmonary arrest and 24 are missing, most of them in the in the town of Atsuma, where a cluster of homes was wrecked when a hillside collapsed.

The earthquake caused a power blackout, leaving Hokkaido in the dark for hours. Power was restored to 1.4 houses or 40 per cent, with the other 60 per cent still waiting.

Brother Narciso Cavazzola, a Franciscan friar in Sunagawa (central-western Hokkaido) has been in Japan for more than 50 years. When the quake struck he was in Sapporo on a spiritual retreat.

"It was a very big jolt," he said. "Since the building where we were is reinforced concrete, we were very scared but we did not suffer any damage and we were not injured. I had never felt a 7-magnitude earthquake before. It was scary."

Fr Ignacio Martinez, a Guadalupe missionary and director of the Social Affairs Department of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan, describes the difficulties of residents.

"Given the timing of the earthquake, 3.08 am, many people were asleep. For this reason, they suffered a serious shock. It was very difficult, without light, gas, water, finding food, especially on the first day."

Fr Martinez notes that one of the biggest problems is helping senior citizens living alone, stuck in high-rises without electricity. The government is now setting up shelters in schools and gyms.

The missionary adds that there is no significant damage to the buildings owned by the diocese, but that there is also no information about parishioners.

"The problem is that there is a lot of water on the island, and the earthquake caused the liquefaction of the ground. This is why homes and buildings have collapsed. It will take time to restore roads and railways and bring power back to some parts of the area."

Contacted by AsiaNews, Caritas Japan said that is working directly with the Diocese of Sapporo, and that it was ready to bring relief.

In recent months, Japan has been hit by a series of natural disasters, with hundreds of casualties.

A few days ago, a typhoon killed 11 people whilst torrential rains caused more than 200 fatalities in July. In June, an earthquake in Osaka killed five people, injuring more than 350.

With respect to the latest quake, Japan’s meteorological agency warned that aftershocks could cause more mudslides.

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