As frightening aftershocks continued to hit this broken city, Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama pledged Wednesday to strengthen crisis management in Japan.
Murayama made the promise during questioning in the upper house of Parliament. He offered no specifics but cited the United States’ Federal Emergency Management Agency as an example of one foreign system to be studied to improve the government’s ability to react to disasters - and presumably to international crises as well.
Murayama’s comments came as residents of Kobe continued their struggle to restore some semblance of normal life, a difficult task with 290,000 people in the Kobe area still living in evacuation centers and key access roads still clogged with traffic more than a week after the quake.
Late Wednesday evening, a 3.6-magnitude aftershock rattled buildings in Kobe, but there were no immediate reports of new injuries or further damage.
City officials set up 41 emergency clinics and the Japan Red Cross added another nine as influenza spread rapidly among evacuees still sleeping on floors in crowded, unheated schools and other buildings. With medical staffs at surviving city hospitals on the edge of collapse from lack of sleep, the city was seeking additional help from doctors and nurses in other parts of Japan.
“We are trying to get reinforcements from all around the country,” a city official said. “Our medical people can’t keep going like this.”
Murayama told Parliament that the government is trying to speed flu medicine into the city. “We are doing all we can to get medicine in,” he said.
One welcome development for evacuees was the arrival of temporary bathhouses at some relief centers, set up by troops from Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. About half the city still lacks running water.
Troops set up more public baths - big enough for 20 people at a time - in green military tents on Wednesday, after the first had started operation Tuesday night.
“I feel like I’ve come back to life,” said a man shown on NHK television, his thinning gray hair still wet from his first bath since the Jan. 17 earthquake.
One of the steaming baths was set up in a tent at a Kobe pier, where ships from Osaka brought water to fill a large rectangular tub. Wednesday was men’s day at the pier bath, and more than 600 came to enjoy it. Today, women will use it.
At one refugee center, an eyeglass company showed up to provide glasses for people who had lost theirs in the quake. “I can read newspapers again,” said an elderly woman who got new glasses.
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