SUZU, Japan — Rescuers braved the cold in a race against time as they searched for survivors along Japan’s western coastline Thursday, Jan. 4, 2023, after a powerful earthquake earlier in the week smashed homes and left at least 78 people dead and 51 missing.
A downpour and possible snow were expected, raising the risk of landslides. A list of those officially missing released overnight grew from 15 to 51 people in three cities, including a 13-year-old boy. Some earlier reported missing have been found but more names were coming in, officials said.
Ishikawa prefecture and nearby areas were shaken by more aftershocks, adding to the dozens that followed Monday’s magnitude 7.6 temblor centered near Noto, about 300 kilometers from Tokyo on the opposite coast. The quake set off tsunami warnings, followed by waves measuring more than one meter in some places.
The first 72 hours are especially critical for rescues, experts say, because the prospects for survival greatly diminish after that.
“More than 40 hours have passed. This is a race against time, and I feel that we are at a critical moment,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday.
On Thursday, he announced that the number of troops dispatched for rescue operations is increasing from about 1,000 to 4,600.
The narrowness of the Noto Peninsula has added to the challenges in reaching some communities. Water, power and cellphone service were still down in some areas.
Naomi Gonno said she and her children got out of their house just as it came crashing down.
But her children were screaming “Granma,” and Gonno saw that her mother was trapped under the smashed house, with only her hand visible. She was able to squeeze her way out through a tiny space, Gonno said.
“I can’t believe we’re still alive,” she said. “We are living in fear.”
Relief officials handed out water, blankets, food and other supplies. Sniffer dogs joined military personnel and firefighters in the search.
Weather forecasters warned of heavy rain in Ishikawa, leading to worries about landslides and further damage to half-crumbled homes. Temperatures were expected to drop to around 2 degrees Celsius overnight. Ishikawa officials raised the death toll on Thursday to 78. Of the dead, 44 people were in Wajima and 23 in Suzu, with the rest in five towns.
More than 330 people have been injured, at least 25 of them seriously.
Ishikawa Gov. Hiroshi Hase encouraged everyone to use masks, antiseptic and soap to guard against the spread of infectious diseases as evacuees shelter together. Ensuring adequate water supplies and toilets for those who were displaced is a priority, he said.
About 34,000 people are staying in evacuation centers, and some said they were hungry and cold, unable to sleep and afraid.