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Death toll rises, flights resume, power back in Japan quake

SAPPORO, Japan (AP) — Japanese rescue workers and troops searched Saturday for the missing for a third straight day in a northern hamlet buried by landslides from a powerful earthquake. Power was restored to most households and international flights resumed to the main airport serving the Hokkaido region.

The Hokkaido government said Saturday that 30 people are dead or presumed dead and nine remain missing. All but three of the victims are in the town of Atsuma, where landslides crushed and buried houses at the foot of steep forested hills that overlook rice fields.

Toyota Motor Corp. announced that it would suspend nearly all its production in Japan on Monday. Toyota makes transmissions and other parts in Hokkaido and also has suppliers on what is the northernmost of Japan's four main islands.

The magnitude 6.7 earthquake that struck about 3 a.m. on Thursday knocked out power to the entire island of 5.4 million people, swamped parts of a neighborhood in the main city of Sapporo in deep mud and triggered destructive landslides.

Backhoes were removing some of the solidified mud to clear a road in Kiyota ward on the eastern edge of Sapporo. In parts of Kiyota, the earth gave way as it liquefied, tilting homes and leaving manhole covers standing one meter (three feet) in the air. In parking lots, cars were still stuck in mud that reached part way up their wheels.

The return of electricity came as a huge relief for residents. About half of Hokkaido got power back Friday, and all but 20,000 households had power Saturday morning. "It was a relief that it was back yesterday evening, but it feels it took time," said 66-year-old Sapporo resident Tatsuo Kimura, adding that the blackout was a reminder "of how important electric power is in our life."

Tourists from South Korea and China were able to head home from New Chitose Airport, outside of Sapporo. About 1,600 people spent the previous night at the airport, according to Japanese media reports.

Hokkaido has become a popular destination for tourists from other parts of Asia.

Associated Press business writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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