Japan PM Shinzo Abe visits quake-hit Hokkaido as toll rises to 37

Sep 09, 2018, 12:20 IST | AFP

He was scheduled to take a helicopter ride to view the devastation in Atsuma, a small rural town which has seen most of the deaths caused by the quake

Japan PM Shinzo Abe visits quake-hit Hokkaido as toll rises to 37
Shinzo Abe/Agency Photo

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the quake-hit northern region of Hokkaido Sunday, as officials confirmed two more deaths bringing the toll to 37. Abe toured the city and commercial hub of Sapporo, where Thursday's 6.6-magnitude jolt has left houses tilted and roads cracked.

He was scheduled to take a helicopter ride to view the devastation in Atsuma, a small rural town which has seen most of the deaths caused by the quake. A cluster of dwellings in the town were wrecked when a hillside collapsed from the force of the quake, creating deep brown scars in the landscape.

Abe will later visit residents at evacuation shelters in Atsuma before meeting Hokkaido governor Harumi Takahashi. His visit comes as search-and-rescue operations continue around the clock to find two missing individuals. The Hokkaido government said the death toll now stood at 37, with one body yet to be officially pronounced dead by a medical professional.

"There is on-and-off rain at Atsuma. The work is continuing to look for the missing persons," a regional disaster management official told AFP. The central government has dispatched thousands of rescue workers, including Self-Defence Forces, to look for the missing pair with the aid of bulldozers, sniffer dogs and helicopters.

All three million households in Hokkaido lost power when Thursday's quake damaged a thermal plant supplying electricity to the region. Power has been nearly restored but officials are asking local residents and businesses to save energy, particularly after the weekend, as electricity supplies remain unstable.

The quake was the latest in a string of natural disasters to batter the island nation. Western parts of the country are still recovering from the most powerful typhoon to strike Japan in a quarter of a century, which claimed 11 lives and shut down the main regional airport. Japan sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where many of the world's earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are recorded. On March 11, 2011, a devastating 9.0-magnitude quake struck under the Pacific Ocean, and the resulting tsunami caused widespread damage and claimed thousands of lives.

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