Waiting in the cold, hundreds of residents of the earthquake-hit Japanese town of Shika stood in a queue to get rations of a suddenly scarce, but vital, commodity: drinking water.
The line snaked out the door and around the town hall building, past paving stones jutting out of the ground that were forced upwards by the powerful series of tremors on New Year’s Day.
Taps ran dry in many homes as dozens of aftershocks rocked Shika and other towns in the central Ishikawa region after the initial earthquake.
Among those waiting for their six allocated litres (1.6 gallons) of water on Tuesday was Tsugumasa Mihara, who told AFP that the magnitude-7.5 earthquake was unlike anything he had experienced before.
The 73-year-old had just given his grandchildren a traditional New Year’s Day gift of pocket money and was taking a nap when he was rattled awake by the quake.
“I was just helpless… all I could do at the time was pray that it would end soon,” he said.
The earthquake left broken dishes scattered in his kitchen, but no one was hurt in Mihara’s family and his home still has electricity.
Now, “the problem is water”.
‘Feared for my life’
The spate of earthquakes toppled large buildings, triggered a tsunami of more than a metre and saw a huge fire sparked in the city of Wajima, razing part of a market area.
By Tuesday, at least 30 people had been confirmed dead in the disaster, which left deep cracks in concrete and brought down entire wooden homes so only their tiled roofs lay on the ground.
There was an eerie quiet in a no-go area for vehicles near Shika, where AFP journalists saw an abandoned car stuck in a crack in the road.
Residents queued outside supermarkets to stock up on supplies, but some convenience stores were closed because there had been no product deliveries.
A sign at one store told customers: “We’re closed today. We’re evacuating.”
Relief efforts were already underway, with construction workers trying to mend road cracks with heavy machinery as rescue, army and police vehicles rushed to the scene.
At Shika Town Hall, a 58-year-old resident who gave her name as Yuko was also waiting for water, handed out in small plastic packets by a masked official in a blue jacket.
“We really need water. An experience like this is a sobering reminder of how essential water is,” she told AFP.
After the main shockwave on Monday — a public holiday in Japan, when loved ones gather to ring in the New Year — people in the worst-hit areas were urged to evacuate as authorities warned of the possibility of large tsunami waves.
“I was on the second floor watching TV when the quake struck,” Yuko said, adding that she had to hold on to the screen to stop it from toppling over.
“I feared for my life of course, but I couldn’t just run away, because I live with my family.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)