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30 are dead or presumed dead in Japan earthquake as rescue effort continues

30 are dead or presumed dead in Japan earthquake as rescue effort continues
A rescue worker searches through the remains of a building that was destroyed by a landslide caused by the earthquake near Atsuma, Japan. (Carl Court / Getty Images)

Japanese rescue workers and troops are searching a third consecutive day for those missing in a northern hamlet buried by landslides from a powerful earthquake.

The regional government on the island of Hokkaido said Saturday that 30 people are dead or presumed dead, and nine others remain missing. Electricity has been restored to nearly all households, and international flights resumed at Hokkaido's main airport.

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The magnitude 6.7 earthquake that struck about 3 a.m. Thursday knocked out power to the entire island of 5.4 million people, swamped parts of a neighborhood in the main city of Sapporo in deep mud and triggered destructive landslides.

Most of the victims were on the outskirts of Atsuma, where landslides crushed and buried houses at the foot of steep forested hills that overlook rice fields.

Rescuers were using search dogs, backhoes and shovels as they dug through tons of mud and debris from the landslides triggered by the quake.

After more than a day of digging there were no reports of survivors in the devastated area near Atsuma, not far from the quake's epicenter.

Most residents sought meals, water and shelter at the local social services office.

Farther inland, unharvested rice fields stretched before a long expanse of hillside that had collapsed all at once, bringing earth and timber down on homes that had been tucked along the edge of the mountain.

In the regional capital, Sapporo, some parts of the city were severely damaged, with houses atilt and roads crumbled or sunken. A mudslide left several cars half-buried, and the ground subsided in some areas, leaving drainpipes and manhole covers protruding by more than 3 feet in some places.

“This is shocking. I was always walking on this street, and I had never imagined this road could collapse in such a way,” said resident Noriyuki Sumi. “But, if you think positively, imagine if I was walking here when this took place. I might have lost my life. So, I try to think I am lucky in this unfortunate situation.”

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said it would take at least a week to fully restore power to all communities because of damage at a thermal power plant at Tomato-Atsuma that supplies half of Hokkaido's electricity.

9:30 p.m.: Updated to raise the death toll from 18 to 30.

This article was first published at 2:10 p.m.

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