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Cold weather hits evacuees after deadly quake in Hokkaido

Quake-affected residents pick up relief materials at a shelter in Mukawa, Hokkaido, on Sept. 11, 2018. (Kyodo)

SAPPORO (Kyodo) -- A sudden drop in temperatures took its toll Tuesday on evacuees in temporary shelters following a deadly quake in Hokkaido that caused massive landslides last week.

With the mercury falling to 5.4 C early Tuesday in the hardest-hit town of Atsuma, it is feared the chilly weather could put the health of local residents at risk with around 2,000 people still in shelters and about 6,000 homes cut off from water supplies in the area, according to the Hokkaido prefectural government.

When the magnitude 6.7 earthquake rocked the region in Japan's northernmost main island in the early hours of last Thursday, the temperature was nearly 20 C.

At an evacuation center near the town hall of Atsuma on Tuesday, evacuees rubbed their hands together at a hand-wash station.

"I wore a fleece and borrowed a blanket last night but it was so cold that I could not sleep," said Naomi Konaya, a 43-year-old woman who is staying at the shelter with her family.

"My niece developed a fever and is sick in bed probably because of the sudden temperature change," she said.

At the facility, residents had slept on blankets directly placed on the cold floor until Monday when beds made of cardboard were brought in.

The earthquake killed 41 people and injured 683 across Hokkaido, with fatalities concentrated in Atsuma, where a number of homes were swept by landslides.

Of the 36 people who died in Atsuma, around 80 percent suffocated, while the other 20 percent died of traumatic injury, according to authorities. Most of the victims were elderly people who are believed to have been buried alive after being engulfed by mudslides in the early morning.

A woman in her 60s who was on the second floor of her home when a landslide struck said, "The first floor was smashed right after the earthquake and the second floor was pushed out for about 30 meters. I could not save my mother-in-law who was sleeping downstairs."

With some preschools still closed and municipal governments busy responding to urgent needs at evacuation facilities, experts warned of a lack of psychological support for children.

"Abnormal signs will come to the fore later. It would be difficult to pay attention to everything but I want (adults) to ask children whether they are able to sleep or have enough appetite," said pediatric psychiatrist Hiroaki Homma.

The former head of a clinic providing support for children affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan said if children's health conditions do not improve after one month or two, they should visit a doctor, suspecting posttraumatic stress disorder.

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