Imperial couple visit quake victims in northern Japan as strong aftershocks continue

Saturday, November 6th 2004, 11:55 am
By: News On 6

TOKYO (AP) _ Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited victims of last month's devastating earthquake in northern Japan on Saturday as strong aftershocks continued to rumble through the region.

The imperial couple stopped at a high school gymnasium converted into an evacuation center, kneeling down to speak with victims huddled on the floor between piles of blankets, cardboard boxes and mats.

The royal visit appeared to bouy the spirits of evacuees at the center in hard-hit Nagaoka city. One woman wiped away tears as the empress offered words of comfort in television pictures broadcast by NHK.

Nagaoka _ in Niigata prefecture _ suffered a magnitude-6.8 quake on Oct. 23 and a series of large aftershocks. The quakes killed 39 people and injured more than 2,000.

Last month's temblor was the deadliest to hit Japan since 1995, when a magnitude-7.2 temblor killed 6,000 people in the western city of Kobe.

More than 34,000 people were in emergency shelters in Niigata on Saturday because their homes were destroyed in the disaster, according to the state government. Many also fear returning to their homes with aftershocks continuing.

Japan, which rests atop several tectonic plates, is among the world's most earthquake-prone countries.