MINAMI ASO: Rescuers used shovels to dig through mountains of soil on Sunday as they raced against the threat of more landslides to reach people still trapped by two big earthquakes in Japan.
Some 42 people are now known to have died in the double disaster according to Jiji Press, and some are still missing, feared buried in wrecked houses or under torrents of mud.
Heavy rain forecast for the area around Kumamoto did not materialise Sunday, offering some relief for officials who cautioned more aftershocks might spark further mudslides.
Tens of thousands of people had spent the night in temporary accommodation, or huddled in makeshift shelters as the rescue effort stepped up a gear.
Up to 25,000 personnel fanned out through stricken villages where scores of traditional-style houses were damaged by the quake, or buried in the earth and rock that cascaded down hillsides.
In badly hit Minami Aso, dozens of rescuers worked with hand-shovels after the 7.0 magnitude quake struck in the small hours of Saturday.
Where four houses had once stood on a ridge, only three remained — the fourth washed away by a tide of earth that swept through the settlement.
Yoko Eto, 38, said her neighbour, whom she identified as Mr. Katashima, had been found dead with his dog.
Still visibly shaken, she spoke of her horror as a torrent of muddy water from a nearby reservoir gushed through her home.
“I could hear a rumbling sound soon after the quake. It felt like only a few minutes before the water came rushing through the ground floor,” she said.
Eto scrambled to safety with her elderly father, but has been left with nothing.
“I thought I might be able to find some important things, like ID documents,” she said as she scoured the ruins of her home. “But I could only find old photo albums.”
In nearby Mashiki, few of the formerly elegant wooden houses remained intact.
“I sleep in a car and stay in this tent during the day,” 52-year-old Seiya Takamori said, gesturing to a shelter made from a blue plastic sheet.
“We all knew there was an active fault running underneath the town of Mashiki, but no one really cared about it.