The ordeal of 300,000 refugees from Japan’s massive earthquake eased somewhat for the first time in four days Friday, with relief finally flowing into the stricken port of Kobe and other devastated areas.
For the first time since the quake, deliveries of food and other relief goods increased, grocery stores reopened, inspectors began to decree damaged buildings unsafe and workers started carting away the rubble left by the killer temblor.
Ferries launched operations to Osaka, and some of the superspeed Bullet Line trains resumed partial operation.
The Bullet Line reopened from Tokyo to Osaka; until Friday morning, damage on train lines had forced the route to stop short of Osaka, at the ancient city of Kyoto.
Work crews throughout the quake area dismantled collapsed bridges and elevated expressways, so giant cranes could lift them away.
Police imposed travel restrictions to unclog the traffic jams that had hampered the movement of emergency vehicles since the Tuesday quake.
And Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, promising to “take every necessary financial measure” to rebuild the crippled Kobe region, ordered one of his cabinet ministers to drop all other duties to concentrate on rescue and rehabilitation. Murayama said he would “restructure disaster-relief policies for the whole of Japan.”
After conceding that his government had been in “confusion” trying to cope with the aftermath of Tuesday’s quake, Murayama made the vow in a speech to an opening session of Parliament.
But he offered no outlook as to when normality might return for quake survivors, who he said are being “forced to live as anxious refugees in bitter cold, with not enough to eat” and without water, gas or electricity.
The death toll from from the nation’s worst post-World War II disaster continued to climb. Police announced increases in both the death toll and the number of people missing. As post-quake day No. 5 began this morning, police said 4,438 people were killed and 23,738 injured, with another 673 still missing. Only eight persons people were rescued from the rubble on Friday.
Port facilities in Kobe that handle 30 percent of Japan’s exports and imports still lay in ruins, and more than 44,000 buildings and homes were destroyed or severely damaged. Estimates of material losses range up to $80 billion.
Despite the partly reopened rail routes, train and bus service into and out of the most severely damaged areas remained suspended.
Many residents who lost their homes or feared to stay in them continued to flock to relief centers, most of which are set up in unheated public buildings. At many of the centers, running water was still unavailable.
Japanese from around the country mailed so many relief packages to Kobe City Hall that the city sent many of them back to the Kobe Central Post Office for storage. City officials said they didn’t have enough space to keep the packages and didn’t have enough staffers to open them.