(EDS: INCORPORATING STORY ABOUT NEW CHITOSE AIRPORT RESUMING INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS)
Rescuers were in a race against time Saturday to find possible survivors of the magnitude 6.7 earthquake that rocked Hokkaido two days ago, as power was restored in almost all areas across Japan’s northernmost main island.
About 40,000 personnel including members of the Self-Defense Forces, police and firefighters stepped up their operations as the first 72 hours after a quake are considered crucial for finding survivors.
The powerful quake killed 20 people, with 11 more feared dead but not yet officially declared as fatalities and eight others still missing, the local government said. Most of the casualties, including nearly 400 injured, are residents in the town of Atsuma, where massive landslides buried a number of homes.
Following the quake, power had been cut off for all 2.95 million homes in the prefecture, but the figure has decreased to about 10,600 as of noon Saturday, according to the Hokkaido Electric Power Co.
Given the risk of another massive power outage, with power supply unable to meet Hokkaido’s peak electricity demand on weekdays, the central government will advance preparations for rolling blackouts.
At New Chitose Airport near Sapporo, international flights were resumed, while some 1,200 people stayed overnight in buildings at the key gateway to Hokkaido, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism said.
On Saturday, around 90 international flights are scheduled to depart from and arrive at the airport. Around 90 percent of regular domestic flights resumed Saturday, up from 60 percent the previous day when such flights were restarted.
The terminal building at the airport was crowded with foreign visitors, many of whom looked weary and were anxious to return home.
«We were supposed to get on a flight departing in the afternoon, but we were worried so we came first thing this morning,» said Hong Seung Hee, who came to Hokkaido from South Korea with a friend.
The 23-year-old said, «We had a hard time because the staff at our hotel only spoke Japanese.»
Water supply has been cut off at about 30,000 houses in the prefecture, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. Sapporo, the capital, which accounts for half, will likely see its water services resume on Sunday, following the completion of repair work to water pipes.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a conference of ministers concerned that the government will provide financial support using reserve funds in the fiscal 2018 budget.
«We will continue to deliver to victims» relief supplies such as water and food, Abe said.
All — Kyodo News+