The Japan Meteorological Agency said Wednesday it sees no signs of earthquake activity abating in Kumamoto and surrounding southwestern prefectures after powerful jolts last week, while urging people to remain alert.
As heavy rainfall of between 40 and 50 millimeters per hour is expected in Kumamoto and Oita prefectures on Thursday, the agency also warned of the escalating risk of landslides and flooding of rivers.
More than 600 seismic events ranging from minor jolts to strong earthquakes were detected by the agency in the region since a magnitude-6.5 quake occurred Thursday evening, followed by a more powerful M7.3 quake on Saturday. It is the highest frequency of earthquakes on record, the agency said.
A total of 48 people had been confirmed dead as of Tuesday following the series of earthquakes, after rescuers said one body was found Wednesday morning at the site of a major mudslide in Minamiaso, Kumamoto Prefecture.
Aside from the 48, 11 people have died in Kumamoto Prefecture from quake-related issues such as illness or fatigue from stress at shelters, the Kumamoto prefectural government said Wednesday.
Despite persistent quakes, transport services across the region were slowly being reestablished, with a regional high-speed train service resuming some operations in the morning for the first time in six days, following the partial reopening of Kumamoto airport the day before.
The Kyushu Shinkansen bullet train is now operating between Shin-Minamata Station in Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, and Kagoshima-Chuo Station in the city of Kagoshima, which makes up about a third of its normal 288.9-kilometer journey.
Full resumption of services was expected to take more time as workers continued to remove the train that derailed near Kumamoto Station, while track damage was found in about 150 other places.
With tens of thousands of people remaining in evacuation centers, some municipalities began considering building temporary housing.
In Kumamoto Prefecture, where most of the major earthquakes occurred, a total of 8,784 homes and public facilities were found flattened or damaged as of Wednesday, according to local governments.
Combined with those in surrounding prefectures of Fukuoka, Oita, Miyazaki and Nagasaki, the figure stood at 9,144.
“Residents living in shelters are nearing their limit. We are now at a stage where we need to secure housing” for them, said Kumamoto Mayor Kazufumi Onishi at a disaster management meeting Wednesday.
The hardest-hit Kumamoto town of Mashiki said nearly half of the 11,000 dwellings in the town, or 5,400, sustained damage, including 1,026 that were completely flattened.
A town official designated a sports ground as a candidate site for constructing temporary housing while noting “nothing has been decided,” including when and how many people would be relocated.
The village of Nishihara was also planning to construct temporary housing after over 1,400 homes collapsed or were damaged.
A village official from Minamiaso, which has 500 residences reported damaged, said it is still trying to grasp the full extent of the devastation and needs some time before deciding whether it needs to construct temporary accommodation.