By Toshiaki Kitazato*
KUMAMOTO, Japan (IDN) – In April this year, two major earthquakes struck Kumamoto on the island of Kyushu, southern Japan, where I live and work as a lawyer.
I was resting in my house when a magnitude 6.2 earthquake with an epicentre at a depth of around 11 km struck at 21:26 on April 14. Less than two days later, this was followed by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake at 1:26.
In fear of my life, I spent three nights in a car outside the house with my family. Luckily enough, all of us were safe and my house only received minor damage, while the walls surrounding my house collapsed. JAPANESE
The two major earthquakes were followed by over 600 aftershocks in five days, with a magnitude a little over 6.0 being recorded on three occasions and one of magnitude 7.0. Between the April earthquakes and late July, over 1,900 aftershocks occurred, making people feel very uneasy even months after the incident.
Overall, 76 persons died and 1,957 were injured. Almost 8,300 house were destroyed, 25,932 partially destroyed and 120,000 suffered minor damage. The damage was concentrated in the eastern area of Kumamoto Prefecture, in particular in Mashiki and Nishihara.
Today, there are still an estimated 3,940 persons staying in 72 places of refuge, and special rehabilitation housing is now under construction for the people who have lost their homes.
Unfortunately, the world-famous Kumamoto Castle and Aso Shrine were destroyed, and it is estimated that their reconstruction will take anywhere up to 20 years.
Besides buildings, infrastructure was also badly hit. An electric power blackout affected 477,000 houses, although supply was back to normal by the end of April. Similarly, gas supplies were initially interrupted for 105,00 houses before being restored, again by the end of the month.
Over 445,850 homes were hit by the suspension of water supplies but water service companies from all over all Japan cooperated and to provide an emergency water service. Water supply to the Kumamoto area was restored by April 30, except in some remote areas.
In terms of transport, national highway 57 was blocked and a bridge across a ravine in Mt. Aso area was completely demolished by a huge landslide, while the tunnel route to the Aso area became unusable because of the destruction of roads.
The rapid bullet train, the Shinkansen, suffered a stop of seven days, while all other railway lines operated as usual except for the railways in southern Aso, which were affected by bridge destruction caused by landslide.
Government buildings in Uto City, Mashiki town and in 45 local administration areas in Kumamoto suffered complete destruction and made government disaster rescue plans impractical for the first important three days of the emergency. In addition, a number of hospitals, including Kumamoto Municipal Hospital and Tateno Hospital, were severely damaged and could not open to admit the injured.
Agriculture also suffered with the collapse of 1,183 livestock facilities housing cattle and poultry, while much land was so badly dislocated that farming became impossible.
A disaster contingent of almost 28,000 police officers from all over the country was mobilised, emergency fire fighting rescue corps under the Fire Defence Agency were dispatched and 59,000 firemen were mobilised to support lifesaving rescue services. In addition, the Ministry of Defence sent a disaster team of over 814,000 units for lifesaving and life support activities.
Most importantly, many countries around the world sent large financial contributions to Japan for earthquake disaster relief in the Kumamoto area. These contributions are particularly significant because while the country has experienced many earthquake disasters, many disaster prevention issues still remain on the agenda and cooperation among foreign countries in manpower, supply and money is necessary.
The Kumamoto earthquakes are demonstration of the need to proceed with the construction of an international disaster prevention network.
* Toshiaki Kitazato is a lawyer and a former deputy director-general in charge of the Cabinet Office for disaster prevention in Japan. He is also a former deputy commissioner of the Fire and Disaster Management Agency (FDMA) in Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. (30 August 2016)
This article is part of IDN’s media project jointly with Global Cooperation Council and DEVNET Japan.