Rescue workers are using heavy equipment to dig through the debris from a landslide that buried houses and people in the small town of Atsuma on Japan’s northern island prefecture of Hokkaido.
The landslide was triggered by a magnitude 6.7 earthquake that shook the island Thursday, killing at least 20 people, collapsing houses and cutting power to millions of homes.
It’s the latest in a series of disasters that have hit the country, after multiple deaths caused by a severe typhoon, flooding, and heatwaves this summer. Experts say this could be the “new normal.”
As many as 40,000 rescue workers, including 22,000 troops from Japan’s Self Defense Forces, worked through the night in Atsuma Thursday to search for residents feared buried in the rubble.
Families of those missing stood around anxiously as the teams dug deep into the displaced earth.
One resident, Tenma Takimoto, 17, was waiting for his sister to be discovered – she was finally found by rescue worker who had to dig with their bare hands. Takimoto, who also suffered a leg injury, told her, “You did great. You were patient enough.”
Kenichi Endo, 70, had traveled to the small town to find his relative, Japanese news agency Jiji reported. “I never expected there would be a landslide by an earthquake,” he said.
The first floor of missing man’s two-story house, which he shared with his wife, was submerged in mud, the report said. Endo said he loved his relative, who is in his 80s, “like a brother.”
Power that was cut to millions of houses started to return on Friday, and the nearby Shin Chitose Airport, closed due to the quake, had resumed partial operation.
All domestic flights, as well as a number of international flights, are expected to be back on schedule Saturday.
Japan’s summer of chaos has seen the country endure weeks of deadly floods, typhoons, earthquakes, landslides and heatwaves, in what disaster management experts say is a sign of what’s to come.
Thursday’s earthquake came just days after the strongest typhoon to hit Japan’s mainland in 25 years smashed a tanker into a bridge, forcing one of the country’s largest airports to close and hundreds of flights to be canceled. The storm caused at least 10 deaths.
It’s one of a succession of deadly natural disasters to have affected Japan since July. “Back-to-back-to-back events seem to have beaten a path for each other to follow,” Senior Science Adviser Doug Bausch of the Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) told CNN from Hawaii.
Two months ago, landslides and flooding caused by torrential rain across Japan – from Saga in the far southwest to Gifu in the center of the main island of Honshu – killed 200 people in what became one of the deadliest natural disasters to hit the country since the earthquake and tsunami of 2011.