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Kumamoto town endures sleepless night after massive quake

The morning after a powerful earthquake jolted Kumamoto Prefecture, local residents who spent the sleepless night at evacuation shelters or out in the open voiced concerns over how their lives would be affected.

    In the town of Mashiki, where the quake registered a maximum 7 on the 7-point Japanese intensity scale, many houses collapsed and caught fire, and desperate rescue efforts continued overnight amid a string of aftershocks.

    The death toll and number of injured climbed, and the damage to lifeline utilities and the public transport system have continued to affect residents' lives.

    In the Kiyama district of Mashiki, 32-year-old Mifumi Toyose, who lives on the first floor of an apartment building that collapsed in the quake, was rescued by firefighters at around 2:30 a.m. on April 15, about five hours after the initial temblor struck. Rescuers used ladders to enter the apartment from its second floor, and neighbors erupted into applause when the rescue drama came to a happy end.

    "I don't know how to describe my feeling now. I thank God for his protection," Toyose's 70-year-old pastor father Takeshi said with tears in his eyes as he watched the ordeal.

    According to the senior Toyose, he and two other family members were at home on the first floor of the apartment when the quake struck. The structure's first floor was flattened.

    Meanwhile, rescue efforts continued at a collapsed house about 50 meters away from the apartment, where taxi driver Masataka Murakami, 61, and his 94-year-old mother Hanae had been trapped. Firefighters, Self-Defense Forces personnel and a police rescue vehicle joined the efforts, searching for the two in the house whose first floor was crushed. However, the two were later confirmed dead.

    "The mother and son were really kind and polite. I'm so sorry," said Shinji Hayashi, 57, a local camera shop owner.

    At an apartment building in the Soryo district of Mashiki, about 20 riot police unit members were trying to rescue Tatsuya Sakamoto, 29, who was trapped in the apartment, at around 1:50 a.m. on April 15.

    "Prepare a steel cutter," said one rescuer, while another said, "Give me a hammer." The sound of the apartment's steel frame being cut echoed throughout the area while major aftershocks hit three times during the hour-long rescue operation. "Stop the work," said one rescuer, while another remarked, "It's still shaking," during the operation.

    A hole was broken open on the first floor of the two-story apartment, and the body of Sakamoto, covered in plastic sheets, was carried out. "It's 2:56 a.m.," a voice said. Sakamoto was in a state of cardiorespiratory arrest, and was later confirmed dead.

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