MINAMIASO – U.S. airlifts were delivering water, bread, ready-to-eat food and other emergency supplies Monday to a remote area of southern Japan stricken by two powerful earthquakes, as local rescuers searched for 10 people still reported missing.
Authorities said at least 42 people died and more than 1,000 were injured in the quakes on Thursday and early Saturday.
The flights by two MV-22 Ospreys were a gesture of cooperation between the two allies and a chance for the U.S. military to demonstrate the utility of the tilt-rotor aircraft, whose deployment has raised controversy in Japan due to safety concerns.
Minamiaso, a town of 12,000 on the southern island of Kyushu, was partly cut off by landslides and road and bridge damage. Residents there marked their location with chairs aligned in a giant “SOS” while awaiting the U.S. relief flights, which also delivered tents and portable toilets and waste treatment kits.
Yachiyo Fuchigami, 64, was among those keeping a wary eye on puffs of smoke rising from nearby 1,592-meter (5,223-foot) Mount Aso, Japan’s largest active volcano.
Fuchigami suffered a broken arm when a bookshelf fell on her during the second quake. The first quake caused more damage in another, less remote city, Mashiki.
“The second earthquake caught us by surprise,” she said. “We survived the first one and were watching the scenes in Mashiki on TV. I never thought we were going to be next.”
Nine people died in the first, magnitude 6.4 earthquake, and 33 in the second quake, which registered 7.1, revised from an initial reading of 7.3.
Rescuers were redoubling search efforts, shoveling through mud and debris as they rushed to beat forecast heavy rains that would make land and collapsed buildings even more unstable.
The U.S. has about 50,000 troops stationed in Japan, and the American military played a large role in rescue and relief during the March 2011 tsunami and earthquake disasters along the northeastern coast of the main island of Honshu.
This time, Japan asked for help with airlifts, said Jacqueline Hearne, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Army. “We’re glad that we’re able to support in any way the Japanese government needs us.”
The tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey flies like an airplane but can take off and land like a helicopter, making it well suited for mountainous areas like Minamiaso, said Lt. Yuichiro Inoue of the Japanese army.
In other, less remote areas, utilities had teams out fixing electricity connections, and some local supermarkets reopened after getting their shelves back in order.
Still, disruptions from damage to buildings and roads, and from outages of electricity and water supplies, were reverberating beyond Kyushu as manufacturers suspended output.
Toyota Motor Corp. said it would shut down most of its vehicle production in Japan over the course of this week because of parts shortages stemming from the earthquakes. Nissan Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. also temporarily halted production at some facilities.
Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 3.4 percent to 16,270.89 on Monday. The decline stemmed from various reasons, including a surge in the yen after weekend talks amid major oil producers on freezing oil output ended without an agreement.
Many in the quake zone whose homes were not seriously damaged sought shelter as the area was rocked by more than 500 aftershocks.
As some of the 180,000 evacuees complained of having only rice balls and bread to eat, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defended his government’s handling of the crisis.
“We are doing our best,” Abe told lawmakers when challenged by the opposition over the government’s handling of the relief effort. “We are striving to improve living conditions for the people who have sought refuge.”
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