WORLD

Death from the deeps

July 26 1993
WORLD

Death from the deeps

July 26 1993

Death from the deeps

WORLD

Unlike residents along the swelling banks of the muddy Mississippi, the coastal inhabitants of northern Japan had no advance warning. First came the jolt. At exactly 10:17 p.m. local time on July 12, a powerful earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the open-ended Richter scale, rocked the country’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido.

The quake, centred about 50 miles offshore and 30 miles below the Sea of Japan, crum-

bled houses, touched off land-

slides and set fire to broken gas mains. Five minutes later came the wail of sirens, warning of approaching tidal waves, or tsunamis, generated by the undersea tremor. But for many, the alert came too late. Just 13 minutes after the initial shock wave, the first wall of water slammed into the coast, sweeping stunned victims, many still groggy with sleep, out to sea as they attempted to flee to higher ground. Yet more waves, some surpassing 30 feet in height and trav-

elling at more than 300 m.p.h., pounded the shore as dazed survivors, many having lost everything but their lives, cried out for their missing loved ones.

Japan’s worst earthquake in 45 years took a grim toll. By week’s end, officials counted more than 163 dead, more than 150 injured andat least 1,000 homeless, with scores more people missing. Powerful aftershocks rambled for days after the initial quake. Japan’s National Maritime

Agency and Self-Defence Forces dispatched hundreds of personnel to the region with emergency food, water and clothing for the victims. Worst hit was the tiny fishing and resort island of Okushiri, 30 miles south of the epicentre, where more than 100 people out of a total population of 4,600 were killed. An entire hillside slid into the two-storey Yoyoso Hotel, burying about three dozen people, many of them elderly tourists. And more than half of all homes on the island either collapsed, ? were destroyed by the waves, " or burned to the ground.

I In the tsunamis' topsy-turvy p world, houses and cars, some containing people, were - sucked out to sea, while fishing boats and ships were tossed inland like toys. In the village of Aonae, on the southern tip of Okushiri, a fire storm incinerated everything in its path. Buses and tracks lay twisted on buckled roads lined by burnedout homes. Community centres and schools overflowed with the homeless. It was a devastating reminder of the destructive power of nature.

SCOTT STEELE with correspondents’ reports