MINAMIASO, Japan — The U.S. military prepared to join relief efforts Monday in disaster-stricken areas of southern Japan as authorities struggled to feed and care for tens of thousands of people who sought shelter after two powerful earthquakes that killed at least 42 people.
Ten people remained missing, and rescuers were redoubling search efforts on the southern island of Kyushu, where many areas were cut off by landslides and road and bridge damage. Forecasts for heavy rains, which would make land and collapsed buildings even more unstable, added to the urgency of the searches.
Toyota Motor Corp. said it would shut down most of its vehicle production in Japan over the course of this week because of parts shortages stemming from the earthquakes. Nissan Motor Co. also halted production at some facilities.
With 180,000 people seeking shelter, some evacuees said that food distribution was a meagre two rice balls for dinner.
“We are doing our best,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told lawmakers when challenged by the opposition over the government’s handling of the relief effort. “We are striving to improve living conditions for the people who have sought refuge.”
“Today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, we will be working toward a full recovery,” Abe said.
Gradually some roads were being reopened, and older men in security guard uniforms were helping to direct traffic in the drizzly weather.
U.S. Forces, Japan, said troops were preparing to provide aerial support for Japan’s relief efforts. The U.S. has major Air Force, Navy and Marine bases in Japan, and stations about 50,000 troops in the country.
Many whose homes were not seriously damaged sought shelter as the area was rocked by more than 500 aftershocks from two big quakes that struck late Thursday night and in the early hours of Saturday.
“Without water and electricity, we can’t do anything. Without the TV on, we can’t even get information about disaster relief operations,” said Megumi Kudo, 51, standing in a line for water outside a community centre in Aso city. “We can’t take a bath, not even a shower.”
Kudo came with his wife and a 12-year-old daughter, carrying several empty gallon-size plastic containers to get water while his 80-year-old mother waited at home. “It’s better to be prepared than sorry, as we learned the hard way,” he said.
His house survived, despite major roof damage, but like many, the family was sleeping in their cars.
A few blocks away, 75-year-old Tokio Miyamoto said he was wary of sleeping alone in his house, so he was lugging his futon bedding every evening to an evacuation centre. “It’s a hassle, but it’s too scary to be alone,” he said.
Miyamoto said the evacuation centre was short of food, with only a couple of rice balls per meal for each person.
Japanese media said most of those missing were in Minamiaso, a mountain village southwest of 1,592-meter (5,223-foot) Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan. There, dozens of troops, police and other rescue workers were shovelling debris and searching through places where they may have been buried.
A few stretchers were on hand in case anyone was found alive.
Earthquakes on successive nights struck Kumamoto city and the surrounding region late last week. Nine people died in the first earthquake, and 33 in the second. Kumamoto, a city of 740,000, is on Kyushu island.
About 80,000 homes in Kumamoto prefecture still didn’t have electricity Sunday, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said. Japanese media reported earlier that an estimated 400,000 households were without running water.
The areas of Kyushu affected by the quake include technology hubs and other manufacturing, and the disruptions to transport and logistics were expected to ripple through the economy.
Toyota’s shutdown began Monday at a factory in Kyushu and was to progress to other plants in Japan through Friday. The company said resumption of operations would depend on the availability of parts.
Other companies, including Sony, have announced stoppages of some of their factories in Kyushu.