Kumamoto marks 4th quakes anniv. in downsized ceremony amid pandemic

The southwestern Japanese prefecture of Kumamoto on Tuesday marked the fourth anniversary of a pair of massive earthquakes that killed 275 people with a scaled-down ceremony amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Twenty-six participants, including those who lost family members in the disaster, observed a moment of silence at the Kumamoto prefectural government office, with the number of attendees cut from 350 last year. Spaces between seats were widened to around 2 meters to minimize person-to-person contact and help prevent infections.

Only five guests, including the prefectural assembly chairman, were invited to the ceremony, which was shortened to around 30 minutes, and flower offerings by the general public after the event were canceled.

“We must appreciate ordinary life and seize the day,” said Katsunori Uchimura, 50, who lost his father Masakatsu, 77, in one of the quakes, representing families of the disaster victims.

On April 14, 2016, a magnitude 6.5 quake struck the region, followed by a M7.3 temblor two days later.

Uchimura established a construction company in the Kumamoto village of Nishihara after his father died and helped rebuild the area. His father lost his life when he was buried under his collapsed house.

“I received a lot of encouragement in the midst of chaos after the earthquake,” Uchimura said, as he extended his gratitude for the support of the local community.

In the town of Mashiki, which was hit hardest by the quakes, officials observed a moment of silence at the town hall. Stands were set up for local people to lay flowers.

With more than 200,000 residences damaged by the quakes, over 3,120 people were still living in temporary housing as of late March. A total of 1,715 public housing units for people affected by the disaster had been completed as of last month.

“I feel a responsibility to continue our support until the end, understanding the feelings of each person who resides in temporary housing,” Kumamoto Gov. Ikuo Kabashima said.

The reconstruction of transport infrastructure is expected to make significant progress in the Aso area this fiscal year, which began April 1.

A closed section of the JR Hohi Line is scheduled to reopen around August, and reconstruction of a major bridge in the village of Minamiaso is expected to be completed next March.

Meanwhile, Kumamoto Mayor Kazufumi Onishi expressed concern over the spread of coronavirus infections at a meeting on the city’s recovery from the quake disaster.

“The new coronavirus could impede the progress of reconstruction work,” he said, calling for a shared sense of the gravity of the situation.


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