Wrecked town of Mashiki holds memorial service for Kumamoto quake victims

A memorial service was held in the town of Mashiki, Kumamoto Prefecture, on Sunday for those killed by the powerful earthquakes that ravaged it a year ago.

The ceremony, organized by the Mashiki Municipal Government, brought together 390 people.

The participants offered a silent prayer for the 37 victims, including those who died from indirect causes related to the disaster.

A foreshock with a magnitude of 6.5 hit Kumamoto Prefecture and nearby areas on April 14, 2016, and was followed by the 7.3-magnitude main quake two days later. In Mashiki, both maxed out at 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale.

“We aim to rebuild the town as early as possible by uniting ourselves and supporting each other,” Mashiki Mayor Hironori Nishimura said at the ceremony.

“My grief will never go away,” said Toshiko Kawazoe, 57, who lost her eldest daughter, Yumi, 28, in the main quake, which destroyed their house. But Kawazoe added that she is determined to continue moving forward for her daughter and others who lost their lives.

According to Mashiki officials, about 7,600 people in the town lost their homes and are now living in temporary housing.

A memorial service was also held the same day in the adjacent village of Nishihara, drawing about 300 participants.

Nishihara also saw the main quake hit 7 on the intensity scale and lost eight residents in all.

Overall, the death toll for the disaster stands at over 220 with deaths from indirect causes included.

Tokai University held a memorial ceremony on Saturday at its campus in the city of Kumamoto, the prefectural capital. About 350 people came to mourn three students killed claimbed by the quakes.

“We lost countless things and precious friends in just one night, and experienced immeasurable fear and sorrow,” said Daichi Tanaka, 20, a third-year Tokai student who was a friend of Riku Ono, one of the three victims.

“What we can do is never let the experiences and memories of the disaster be forgotten and move forward for the three students who lost their lives,” he added.

In the village of Minamiaso, a landslide triggered by the second quake tore down an arched bridge and caused tremendous damage to other infrastructure.

Among the victims were Hikaru Yamato, a 22-year-old student at Kumamoto Gakuen University whose vehicle was engulfed by the landslide. His body was found in his wrecked car some 400 meters downstream from the bridge about four months later.

The Kumamoto Prefectural Government terminated search and rescue work at the site of the landslide in early May to avoid risking a secondary disaster, but Yamato’s parents continued to look for their son on their own and found his car buried in mud on July 24. His body was recovered on Aug. 11.

Yamato was hit by the second quake while returning home after delivering aid supplies to friends who who had been caught up by the first quake in the city of Kumamoto. On Saturday, his family visited the site of the landslide to pay tribute to him.

Yamato’s father, Takuya, 58, his mother, Shinobu, 49, and his 24-year-old elder brother laid flowers and offered prayers.

“I want to tell Hikaru to rest in peace,” his dad said.

“I always feel like I’m with Hikaru,” said his mom.

According to a Kumamoto Prefectural Government estimate, more than 47,000 people had not yet returned to their homes as of March.

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