(Update: upgrades casualties, adds info)
Tokyo, Jan 8 (EFE).- One week on from the powerful earthquake that devastated central Japan, 168 people are confirmed to have died while 323 remained missing on Monday.
Snowfall and damage to roads caused by the Jan. 1 magnitude-7.6 tremor in Ishikawa Prefecture were hampering the search for and delivery of aid to survivors.
Most of the deaths occurred in the towns of Wajima and Suzu, where search and rescue efforts are also being focused, while more than 500 people were injured in Japan’s most devastating earthquake in a decade.
Access by land to the northern tip of the Noto peninsula, the area hardest hit by the earthquake, has been almost entirely blocked because of damaged roads.
A cold front has also brought sub-zero temperatures and snowfall of up to 13 centimeters to the area.
As well as further hampering road access, the frigid weather is putting people who are in homes or shelters that have been without power or running water since the quake at risk.
Some 28,000 people were being sheltered in temporary evacuation centers, while there are about 15,000 households without running water and more than 14,000 without electricity.
In addition, it is estimated that more than 2,000 people in 24 towns in Ishikawa are cut off due to destroyed roads and railway tracks.
Aftershocks have continued steadily, including some of magnitude-5 or higher, which have caused new landslides and additional damage to buildings and roads.
The transport ministry, which has so far been unable to advise when normal road services will resume, has come in for criticism over delays in repairs to key infrastructure.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Sunday that “everything possible” would be done to assist people in the “vast areas that remain isolated,” and said that measures such as access on foot and by helicopter by the Japan Self-Defense Forces were being considered.
Regional authorities were due to open a new evacuation center in a public gymnasium in the city of Kanazawa, where more than 200 tents have been set up to accommodate the elderly, pregnant women and other people with special needs from Tuesday.
The central government has also asked hotels in the area to offer temporary accommodation to quake victims. Those who are in more precarious situations are expected to be transferred there in the coming days.
Monday’s earthquake is the deadliest in Japan since 2011, when a magnitude-9.0 earthquake caused a tsunami that left more than 20,000 dead and triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the world’s worst since Chernobyl in 1986. EFE