Hundreds of volunteers arrived in Kumamoto and other prefectures in southwestern Japan on Friday, seeking to help people in some of the areas hardest-hit by the continuing series of earthquakes.
Some 1,000 people reported to Kumamoto city, the first batch of volunteers to be accepted by the prefectural capital, as the health of people stuck in evacuation centers becomes an increasingly serious issue across the region.
More than a week has passed since the initial magnitude-6.5 quake on April 14, which was followed by a M7.3 quake on Saturday.
While the death toll from the quakes stands at 48, 11 other people are suspected to have died due to health issues triggered by stress and fatigue while evacuating from their homes.
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he plans to visit quake-hit areas in Kumamoto on Saturday. He also instructed officials to speed up work to build temporary housing for evacuees in cooperation with local authorities.
“I want to see the (affected) sites with my own eyes and listen to what each sufferer says to accelerate work toward restoration and revival at the earliest possible time,” Abe told a ministerial meeting on the calamity.
The Self-Defense Forces and police resumed their search for two missing people in the village of Minamiaso on Friday afternoon following the suspension of recovery operations a day earlier due to fears of possible landslides amid heavy rain.
The volunteers in the city of Kumamoto, where some 50,000 people remain evacuated from their homes, began helping with distribution of food and other supplies at evacuation centers and cleaning up of houses.
The hardest-hit Kumamoto town of Mashiki received about 390 volunteers Friday.
As part of international assistance to the quake-hit areas, two South Korean transport planes carrying aid materials such as water, blankets and pre-packaged rice arrived at Kumamoto airport Friday afternoon, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reports in Tokyo.
“I would like to thank the South Korean government for this heart-warming assistance,” the top government spokesman said. “This assistance means a lot also in terms of Japan-South Korean relations.”
About 5,000 packs of baby milk will arrive from Finland soon, according to the Japan-Finland parliamentary association.
More than 800 seismic events ranging from minor jolts to strong earthquakes have been detected in the region since the initial quake, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.
A team of researchers led by Tokyo Denki University professor Susumu Yasuda, who surveyed Kumamoto and Mashiki after the powerful quakes, said they found dozens of cases of ground liquefaction along rivers and at other locations.
In some cases, buildings were left askew or foundations were visible as previously solid, but water-soaked ground, flowed away during the violent shaking.