Toddler's TV rescue after earthquake grips Japan

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After five days of disaster and death, Japan was given some reason to cheer yesterday when a toddler who had been trapped in a car for four days was pulled to safety.

After five days of disaster and death, Japan was given some reason to cheer yesterday when a toddler who had been trapped in a car for four days was pulled to safety.

The boy's mother, Takako Minagawa, was airlifted to hospital but was pronounced dead, and rescue workers had to call off efforts to save his three-year-old sister, Mami, after darkness fell.

Television networks across the country interrupted normal programming to show live coverage of two-year-old Yuta Minagawa being pulled from his mother's car, which was buried beneath tons of mud and rock after a landslide caused by Saturday's earthquakes.

Huge boulders that had crashed on to the family's van had to be shifted to reach the boy, who was trying to stand up between the rocks. Although bleeding from the head, and suffering from dehydration and hypothermia, rescue workers said he was able to ask for a drink of water.

The mother and children were on their way home from visiting friends in Niigata prefecture, about 160 miles north of Tokyo, on Saturday afternoon, when the first of the quakes jolted the area. The family endured cold, hunger and hundreds of aftershocks before rescue workers heard their cries.

Their father, Manabu, was followed by a television crew as hesearched for his family around the devastated area. Mr Minagawa, who was at his son's bedside yesterday, said he was thankful to the people who had rescued his child. "I just hope my daughter can also be saved," he added.

A hospital spokesman said the boy was conscious and had mistaken a nurse for his mother.

The earthquakes have killed 32 people and injured more than 2,000. About 100,000 people are still sleeping in cars, school gymnasiums and makeshift accommodation around Niigata. Many of them are afraid to return to their weakened homes.

Yesterday, the area was hit by another quake, measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale. It toppled more buildings, closed Niigata's airport and shook the area's terrified residents, who had endured a series of devastating typhoons before Saturday's earthquake. A man in Ojiya was taken to hospital after what appeared to be a stroke, and four others were injured, the media said.

Television crews filming in the area to cover the aftermath of the earlier earthquakes captured people screaming in terror and running for cover at sites all over the area. "I just wish the whole thing would stop," one woman told NHK television.

Rescue workers are struggling to deal with the effects of the disaster, amid the threat of further earthquakes and heavy rain, which has made more landslides likely.

More than 300,000 meals and thousands of blankets have been distributed throughout Niigata, but with the area getting colder and many of the earthquake victims elderly, the government is desperate to avoid a repeat of the deadly 1995 Kobe earthquake, when many died from exposure and the rescue efforts were widely criticised. Temperatures in Niigata were forecast to fall below 5C this morning.

Junichiro Koizumi, the Prime Minister, who visited Niigata on Tuesday, told the Japanese Diet yesterday that his cabinet would make available extra money for reconstruction work.