Bitter cold deepens Japan’s quake misery

2011-03-17 13:05

Ofunato – Thick snow covered the wreckage littering quake-hit Japan today, all but extinguishing hopes of finding anyone alive in the debris and deepening danger and misery for survivors.

A cold snap brought heavy blizzards over the country’s northeast overnight, covering the tsunami-razed region in deep snow and vital highways in treacherous black ice.

Half a million evacuees struggled to stay warm as rescuers said their efforts to help the devastated population were at risk, almost a week after the 9.0 magnitude quake and massive tsunami hit.

“We are concerned about ice on the roads,” US rescuer Dave Stone told AFP in the shattered town of Ofunato.

“The other thing we are worried about is the weight of snow on a building that has been compromised.”

Already labouring under sweeping power, gas and water shortages and with limited communication with the outside world, the devastated northeast now faces the possibility of being cut off from key supply links by the weather.

Visibility had dropped considerably and some rescue teams were pulling back today, fearing they would be unable to get back to their bases because of the snow and ice.

The United Nations said the snow, rain and “extraordinarily cold weather” had deepened the nation’s emergency and were complicating relief efforts that were already hampered by aftershocks.

“Concerns are for those who have still not been reached by rescue workers as well as half a million people now living in evacuation centres,” the UN said.

“Many do not have protective clothing or blankets and heating is insufficient. The cold weather is expected to last until the end of the week.”

The government was forced to release extra fuel to cope with demand, and warned there could be widespread blackouts if people did not conserve energy after the icy conditions led to a spike in consumption.

There were fears for children and the elderly, especially those sleeping on the floors of schools and gymnasiums acting as evacuation centres, where colds and influenza would rapidly spread.

“We’re already seeing families huddling around gas fires for warmth. In these sorts of temperatures, young children are vulnerable to chest infections and flu,” said Save the Children’s Steve McDonald, estimating that the disaster had left 100 000 children homeless.

“Babies are especially vulnerable, as their bodies are smaller and take less time to drop below normal body temperature when exposed to cold weather.”

Most of the region’s pharmacies were swept away, adding to the pressure on hospitals, where thousands of people were already turning up seeking to have routine prescriptions filled.

Moriwaki Morisada, head of Inawashiro Hospital in Kesennuma, said 36 mostly elderly patients – half of them bed-ridden – were still at a nearby elementary school, where they were evacuated as the tsunami rushed forth.

“We can go back (to the hospital) if electricity comes. Lives can’t be protected if facilities like us have no priority,” Morisada said.

“This cold is worsening patients’ conditions. I’ll keep them alive until they can be transferred.”

Nearly 15 000 people were left dead or missing by the initial disaster, according to official figures, with many bodies expected to be found. More than 80 000 buildings were damaged and almost 5 000 destroyed.

The Red Cross said many people were now arriving at hospitals suffering from hypothermia and at risk of pneumonia.

The UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said search and rescue teams were reporting “increasingly difficult conditions” due to the weather and a lack of vehicles and fuel supplies.

“Rescue teams have described it as the biggest job they have ever experienced,” the office said.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News
Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.