The Kyushu Shinkansen Line resumed service Saturday between Fukuoka and Kumamoto prefectures, restoring a key transport artery that had been blocked following powerful earthquakes on the southwestern island of Kyushu last week.
The service resumption coincided with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s first visit to quake-stricken areas in Kumamoto since the series of temblors caused mudslides, flattened buildings and forced tens of thousands of people to flee from their homes.
The restart of bullet-train service on the roughly 98-kilometer section between JR Hakata and Kumamoto stations leaves the about 74-km section linking Kumamoto Station and Shin-Minamata Station to the south the only section yet to be brought back to service.
The entire bullet-train line was halted when a 6.5 magnitude quake occurred in Kumamoto on April 14, leaving an out-of-service train derailed on tracks south of Kumamoto Station and damaging railway facilities elsewhere.
Kyushu Railway Co, the bullet-train operator, is in the process of removing the cars from the tracks and could finish the work as early as Saturday, but it remains unclear when service on the section between Kumamoto and Shin-Minamata can be resumed.
Service on the remaining section of the line, linking Shin-Minamata and Kagoshima-chuo Stations, was brought back on Wednesday.
Earlier Saturday, Abe flew to Kumamoto from Tokyo on an air defense force jet and surveyed quake damage from the air and on the ground before meeting with quake victims at a temporary shelter in Minamiaso, a village hard-hit by the temblors.
At a base for personnel engaged in search efforts in the village, Abe said, “Although your work entails risks, I expect you to complete your mission while watching out for secondary disasters.”
Abe met with evacuees at a shelter in Minamiaso and pledged that his government will “provide a strong support” for the people afflicted by the quake.
While in Kumamoto, Abe also met with Gov. Ikuo Kabashima at the prefectural government building in Kumamoto City and was briefed on the support being provided to quake victims and rebuilding plans.
Abe said the government will do its utmost to secure housing for those disaster-stricken people, while Kabashima asked for government support for the revival of Kumamoto as well as early restoration of Kumamoto Castle, whose stone walls had partly collapsed following the quakes.
Abe also touched on the possibility of designating the disaster as one of “extreme severity,” that would allow affected communities to receive higher subsidies to aid recovery, and said “You’re in good hands. I will make a thorough decision about it.”
Before leaving Kumamoto, Abe told reporters that the Cabinet is set to give approval Monday to designate a series of earthquakes in Kumamoto and Oita prefectures as such disaster.
Asked whether his government intends to draft a supplementary budget in fiscal 2016 for the recovery of the quake-stricken areas, Abe said, “We hope to do everything on the financial front.”
Abe had originally planned to visit Kumamoto exactly a week ago following the M6.5 temblor three days earlier, which killed nine people, but postponed it after a M7.3 quake hit the region in the early hours of Saturday and caused greater damage.
A total of 48 people have died in Kumamoto in the series of quakes. Eleven other people are suspected to have died due to health issues triggered by stress and fatigue while evacuating from their homes.
Tens of thousands of people remain evacuated from their homes, seeking refuge at gyms and other facilities converted into temporary shelters. A number of people are also staying at parking lots in their own cars.
Two people remain unaccounted for. Police officers, firefighters and defense force personnel continued searching for them, while aftershocks, although less intense than some of the earlier temblors, kept striking the region.