A legion of dogs and people intently searched ruined buildings Saturday, making hundreds of sorrowful finds and three wonderful ones: victims who were still alive four days after being trapped by an earthquake.
The death toll from Tuesday’s 7.2-magnitude quake, Japan’s deadliest in more than 70 years, soared past 4,900, and hopes were fading for the 202 people still listed as missing.
The search for survivors took on added urgency with forecasts of heavy rain for today, raising fears of landslides that could topple buildings severely weakened by the quake.
“Finding the last citizens who are trapped, that’s our top priority right now,” city spokesman Tomoaki Watanabe said. “We’re using the dogs all over trying to check every house. We’re still finding people.”
A steady rain - the first since the quake - started to fall on Kobe early today, and forecasters expected it to continue through evening. They expected up to 2.4 inches in some places.
Helmeted workers were spreading tarps and plastic throughout the city in an attempt to keep as much dry as possible.
On Saturday, three people - two 79-year-old men and a 63-year-old woman - were rescued at two locations in the city, police said. There were no details about their conditions.
After widespread complaints of ineptitude, the government’s relief operation was in high gear Saturday, with hundreds of workmen clearing debris, repairing power lines and pouring fresh asphalt on damaged streets.
Small shops, a few banks and about 100 primary and secondary schools reopened Saturday for the first time since the quake. Electric power was restored to most parts of the city and even the traffic lights were functioning.
More than 800,000 households, however, were still without water and heat.
The government’s Central Meteorological Agency warned that the quake had weakened ground on the hills and landslides “may occur even with light rain.”
Seiichi Sakurai, spokesman for the government relief effort, said engineers were identifying areas at risk. “If people sense anything funny, we hope they’ll immediately go to an evacuation shelter,” he said.
Rain also added to the misery of thousands of homeless people camped in vacant lots and fields.
Troops rushed tents to the city in case rain forced more people to abandon their homes. Overcrowded hospitals, which also lacked heat and running water, geared up for new patients because of fears of an influenza outbreak; virtually all of the 1.4 million Kobe residents have no natural gas to keep warm.
Saturday was the first non-working day since the quake, and tens of thousands of residents of Osaka and other western cities took advantage of the weekend to head to Kobe to check on friends and relatives and bring them food, blankets and other supplies.
Ferries, trains and highways were jammed.
Masaru Inoue drove two days from the Tokyo suburb of Chiba to take his brother and his family out of Kobe. He found them living in their van parked along a heavily damaged street. But they refused to leave.
“We’re fine, we can manage here,” Inoue’s sister-in-law, Shizuka Inoue, said as she rested in the van with the couple’s two young daughters. “We don’t want to be a burden.”
About 200 others were camped out under open skies at the soccer field. Several of them were busy Saturday erecting makeshift shelters out of plastic sheets they had found to protect themselves from the rain.
Others in the group were foraging for food, which they shared with their fellow evacuees. “We live together with the other people so we can survive this trauma together,”said Masako Ohara. “My concern is how long this will go on.”
The quake has prompted the Japanese to reconsider some of their long-cherished assumptions about the country’s ability to use its technological prowess as a defense against nature.
Another quake - with a magnitude of 6.2 - shook Japan’s northern island Hokkaido on Saturday, but there were no reports of casualties or damage. An aftershock measuring 4.1 jolted the Kobe area Saturday afternoon, but also caused no damage.
Makiko Tanaka, director general of the Science and Technology Agency, on Saturday urged a review of all Japanese nuclear plants because “anything beyond imagination can happen.”
Japan has at least 47 nuclear reactors and intends to use nuclear power to provide 45 percent of its electricity by 2010, up from 28 percent now.
xxxx The toll Casualties and damage from Tuesday’s earthquake: Casualties: 4,914 dead, 202 missing, more than 25,490 injured, according to police. Cities Hit: Kobe, Takarazuka, Nishinomiya, Ashiya, Awaji Island and Osaka. Buddha statues and a fivestory pagoda built in 951 in the ancient capital, Kyoto, suffered minor damage. Buildings: More than 50,614 destroyed or badly damaged. Electricity: 40,000 households without power. Gas: 849,500 households without gas. Water: 840,000 households without service. Ports: Kobe’s port, which handles more than 12 percent of Japan’s exports, closed except for emergency use. Ferry service partially restored. Highways: Hanshin Expressway, between Osaka and Kobe, collapsed in five places; 12 drivers reported killed as their cars fell from the highway. Bay Coast Highway in Osaka collapsed on section of reclaimed land; two killed. Other national roads damaged at 20 sites. Railroads: High-speed “bullet” train lines damaged at 36 places over a length of about 56 miles. One link restored to service. Railroad officials estimate repairs will take more than four months. Airports: Service continued at Osaka Airport and Kansai International Airport, neither of which suffered major damage. Associated Press