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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Relief Delay Angers Kobe Residents

KOBE, Japan -- Residents of the devastated city of Kobe accused the government of dragging its feet in providing aid as mounting death tolls made Tuesday's quake Japan's worst in more than 70 years.

"What does he mean 'you've had a hard time'?" a middle-aged woman said on public television just after Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama visited her evacuation site, a school in the city center. "He should actually do something about this."

Evacuees in gymnasiums and schools had reached 270,000 by Thursday night and they were still suffering in bitter winter temperatures from a chronic shortage of food, water, heating and clean toilets.

The death toll from Tuesday's dawn earthquake in central Japan had reached 4,047 shortly after midnight Thursday, making it Japan's worst since the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, in which 140,000 people were killed in Tokyo and Yokohama.

A total of 21,671 were injured and another 727 were still missing, a spokesman for the National Police Agency said.

Two 80-year-old women were pulled alive from rubble in Nishinomiya to the east of Kobe, Kyodo news agency reported. One of them, Setsuko Orii, was barely scratched and even her eyeglasses were intact. Rescuers tried to carry her away but she told them: "I can walk myself," Kyodo said.

But almost all of the 200 missing people unearthed Thursday were dead, and hope was receding fast for the hundreds still buried under the rubble. Several of the bodies were discovered by specially trained avalanche rescue dogs sent by Switzerland.

City officials repeated warnings of the danger from aftershocks, fires and poor sanitary conditions.

"Many buildings are barely standing," said a spokesman for the Kobe city Disaster Relief Operation. "A big aftershock could topple them over."

Fires continued to burn in Kobe on Thursday and as many as 50 new blazes broke out in damaged buildings, sparked by power surges and in several cases by rescuers' digging.

Most of Kobe was still without power, water or gas, meaning most residents could not cook their food. Temperatures are falling to freezing point by midnight. Many people were fleeing the devastated city in cars, clogging roads connecting Kobe with nearby Osaka.

After inspecting the widespread damage, Murayama said it was beyond belief. "I have seen nothing like it," he told a news conference in Kobe. "This is far beyond anybody's imagination."

Murayama's promises that help was on the way left many in Kobe unmoved. "I want to see tap water, not Murayama-san," snapped another man scooping water from a fountain in front of Shin-Kobe railway station. The sign read "Not for drinking."

Back in Tokyo, the Murayama government appeared stung by a senior administration official's remarks admitting that the recovery operation was too slow.

"We should have asked the Self-Defense Forces (army) for help much earlier," Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobuo Ishihara said. "The government was late in assessing damage and late in adopting measures."

Murayama's cabinet met late Thursday to plan new emergency measures.