Kobe survivors now threatened by mud

Emergency food supplies have finally started to pour into Kobe and other devastated areas of Hyogo prefecture, but bone-chilling rain, and the threat of hundreds of landslides, has added to the misery of over 300,000 people made homeless by Tuesda y's earthquake.

More than 6,000 residents of Kobe's hilly suburbs were ordered to evacuate their houses over the weekend after mud and rock slides.

The rain began to ease after 5pm yesterday, only to be followed by a warning of danger from strong winds forecast for today which could demolish weakened buildings.

The search for survivors continued, with Japanese police and soldiers aided by French and Swiss rescue teams equipped with sniffer dogs. Two elderly people were pulled from the rubble yesterday.

The official toll last night was 4,981 people dead, nearly 200 missing, and 25,964 injured. Buildings either destroyed or severely damaged total 51,617.

The main concern of doctors has switched from treatment of injuries to prevention of disease, as there is still no running water.

The first British government-chartered aircraft is to arrive this afternoon at the Kansai International Airport close to Kobe, carrying over 18,000 blankets, plastic sheeting, water containers and plastic bowls.

Further shipments are likely to be of powdered milk for babies, sanitary and medical supplies, and paper cups and plates.

A 15-strong team from the International Rescue Corps, a British charity, is also due to arrive this morning at Kansai.

Tens of thousands of friends and relatives, laden with packages of food and other necessities, arrived in the region over the weekend. Restored train services from Osaka to Nishinomiya and Koshien outside Kobe were jammed.

From Nishinomiya, thousands walked alongside the twisted remains of the railway track for four hours to reach central Kobe.

Volunteer groups are now active in the quake-stricken area, and there has been a positive response to emergency appeals, especially by the major Japanese news media.

Even the largest crime syndicate, the 30,000-strong Yamaguchi-gumi, is helping. The crime boss Yoshinori Watanabe told his men to gather relief supplies and bring them to the syndicate's headquarters in Kobe for delivery to hospitals, temples and refugeecamps.

Supplies - including food and nappies - have been pouring in by helicopter, boat and truck, he said.

The mobsters have handed out 60,000 small food parcels, to the delight of the Kobe police.

Construction of temporary housing has started in Kobe, and a demolition team of 250 is working around the clock to break up and clear collapsed portions of the Hanshin elevated motorway from Osaka to Kobe which symbolise the quake's destructive power.

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