Most of the 41 victims of a magnitude-6.7 earthquake that hit the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido suffocated after being buried in landslides or crushed under falling houses, people linked to investigations and other sources said.
Nearly 90 percent of the victims, or 36 people, were in Atsuma situated near the epicenter of the temblor. Moreover, three-fourths of the victims in the town were those in their 60s or older. It appears that the victims were hit by landslides before being able to escape, as the disaster struck at around 3:07 a.m.
Many of the victims apparently died after they were buried in soil or their chests and other parts of their bodies were crushed by falling houses, according to concerned sources.
In the town's Yoshino district, 19 of 34 residents died in the disaster. According to the municipal government, the youngest victim in the town was 16 years old.
Besides Atsuma, two people died in the city of Tomakomai and one each in Sapporo, Mukawa and Shinhidaka.
The 53-year-old victim in Sapporo and one in Tomakomai aged 56 apparently suffocated after they were crushed under a large number of books and other objects that fell on them in their homes.
Roughly half of the victims in the January 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake that devastated Kobe and surrounding areas in western Japan were elderly people aged at least 65. Over 70 percent of all victims suffocated or were crushed to death.
In the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, over half of the victims in hardest-hit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures were aged 65 or above, and around 90 percent of victims drowned as a result of tsunami and other causes.
(Japanese original by Kohei Shinkai, Hokkaido News Department, and Kentaro Mori, Tokyo City News Department)