About 30,000 rescue workers were scouring the rubble for survivors
and handing out food to those unable to return to their homes
following the quakes which struck Kyushu island from Thursday. The
biggest hit near Kumamoto city early on Saturday.
"There are still missing people. We want to make further efforts to
rescue and save people and prioritize human lives," Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe told parliament, adding he aimed to declare the region a
disaster zone to free up reconstruction funds.
The Nikkei stock index ended 3.4 percent lower, hit by a stronger
yen and as investors weighed the impact of the disaster on
manufacturers' supply chains and insurers.
Factories for major manufacturers including Toyota, Sony and Honda
were closed, disrupting supply chains around the country.
Japan's atomic regulator declared three nuclear plants in the region
safe, giving a degree of comfort to a country deeply scarred by the
Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011 that was sparked by an earthquake
All commercial flights to the damaged Kumamoto airport were canceled
and the bullet train service to the region was suspended.
Food was in short supply as roads remained cut off by landslides.
Evacuees made an SOS signal out of chairs at a school playground,
hoping to catch the attention of supply helicopters, Japanese media
"Yesterday, I ate just one piece of tofu and a rice ball," said the
mayor of one of the areas affected. "What we're most worried about
now is food."
Of more than 500 quakes hitting Kyushu since Thursday, more than 70
have been at least a four on Japan's intensity scale, strong enough
to shake buildings.
The Kumamoto region is an important manufacturing hub and home to
Japan's only operating nuclear station.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government would
"take all the necessary measures" to support companies affected by
the disaster and the economy more broadly, including tapping into
reserve funds of 350 billion yen ($3.24 billion).
Abe said a sales tax increase next year would go ahead barring a
financial crisis or major natural disaster, without elaborating on
whether the quakes qualified as such a disaster.
On the stock market, Sony Corp and Toyota Motor led the sharp falls
among manufacturers, dropping 6.8 percent and 4.8 percent
respectively. Nissan Motor and Honda Motor both lost about 3
percent. Insurers and utilities were also sold, with nuclear plant
operator Kyushu Electric Power slumping nearly 8 percent.
Toyota said it would suspend production at plants across Japan after
the quakes disrupted its supply chain.
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Electronics giant Sony said its Kumamoto image sensors plant would
remain suspended. One of the company's major customers for the
sensors is Apple. Honda said production at its motorcycle plant in
southern Japan would remain suspended through Friday.
The Kumamoto government said 42 people had been killed and nine were
Thirty three people have been confirmed dead in Saturday's quake and
nine in the smaller tremor just over 24 hours earlier. The
government said about 190 of the injured were in serious condition
and some 110,000 people had been displaced.
Rescuers digging with their bare hands dragged some elderly
survivors, still in pyjamas, out of the rubble and onto makeshift
stretchers made of tatami mats.
"We can't take a bath, we don't have any clothes to change into - we
just have what we ran out in - and it's taking a long time for goods
to get here," a woman at one evacuation center told TBS television.
Public broadcaster NHK showed footage of forests and rice fields
torn apart by the quake, saying one 50 km (31 miles) strip shifted
almost 2 meters (6 feet) sideways.
Quakes are common in Japan, part of the seismically active "Ring of
Fire" which sweeps from the South Pacific islands, up through
Indonesia, Japan, across to Alaska and down the west coast of North,
Central and South America.
At the other end of the ring this weekend, Ecuador's biggest
earthquake in decades killed at least 262 people, caused devastation
in coastal towns and left an unknown number trapped in ruins.
A massive 9 magnitude quake and tsunami in northern Japan in March
2011 caused the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986,
shutting down the nuclear industry for safety checks and sending
radiation spewing across the countryside.
Nearly 20,000 people were killed in the 2011 tsunami.
(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg, Elaine Lies, William Mallard,
Shinichi Soashiro, Chris Gallagher, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Tim Kelly and
Thomas Wilson; Writing by Stephen Coates; Editing by Robert Birsel
and Ian Geoghegan)
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