Snow hinders rescues, aid deliveries after Japan quake

Snow falls as police officers continue a search operation around a burnt market in Wajima, Ishikawa prefecture, Japan, Jan 7, 2024. [AP Photo]

Rescue teams worked through snow to deliver supplies to isolated hamlets Sunday, six days after a powerful earthquake hit western Japan, killing at least 126 people. Heavy snowfall expected in Ishikawa Prefecture later Sunday and through the night added to the urgency.

After Monday's 7.6 magnitude temblor, 222 people were still unaccounted for, and 560 people were injured. Hundreds of aftershocks have followed, rattling Noto Peninsula, where the quakes are centered.

Taiyo Matsushita walked three hours through mud to reach a supermarket in Wajima city to buy food and other supplies for his family. The home where he lives with his wife and four children, and about 20 nearby homes, are among the more than a dozen communities cut off by landslides.

Power was out, and in a matter of hours, they couldn't even use their cellphones, he told Jiji Press.

"We want everyone to know help isn't coming to some places," Matsushita was quoted as saying by Jiji Press. "We feel such an attachment to this community. But when I think about my children, it's hard to imagine we can keep living here."

Late Saturday, a woman in her 90s was rescued from a crumbled home in Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture, after 124 hours trapped in the rubble. She was welcomed by shouts of encouragement, although the darkness and a long blue sheet of plastic blocked her from view.

Chances for survival greatly diminish after the first 72 hours.

Ishikawa officials say 1,370 homes were completely or partially destroyed. Many of the houses in that western coastal region of the main island are aging and wooden. Cars lay tossed on cracked, bumpy roads. Snow blanketed the debris and highways. Wires dangled from lopsided poles.

The more than 30,000 people who evacuated to schools, auditoriums and community facilities slept on cold floors. They trembled in fear through the aftershocks. They prayed their missing loved ones were safe. Others cried softly for those who had died.

Some people were living out of their cars, and long lines formed at gas stations. Food and water supplies were short. Worries grew about snow and rainfall, which raise the risk of mudslides and further damage, as snow collecting on roofs can flatten barely standing homes.

A fire that raged for hours gutted a major part of Wajima, and a tsunami swept through homes, sucking cars down into muddy waters.