KOBE, Japan, Jan. 18 -- Rescuers searched desperately for survivors in the rubble of collapsed buildings Wednesday as the death toll from Japan's most devastating earthquake in nearly half a century climbed to more than 1,800, with nearly 1,000 others still missing. By dawn, firefighters had managed to quell most of some 170 quake- triggered blazes that had destroyed wide areas of the port city of Kobe in the first 24 hours after the temblor slammed western Japan early Tuesday. The quake measured 7.2 on the open-ended Richter scale, and was the most deadly to hit Japan since 1948, when 3,769 people died in 7.1 magnitude temblor. The National Police Agency said at least 1,885 people were killed and 6,334 others injured in Tuesday's quake. Nearly 10,000 buildings were totally or partially destroyed. In scenes reminiscent of World War II, about 150,000 thousand people spent the night in schools and other make-shift shelters around Kobe, a city of 1.5 million located 313 miles (500 km) west of Tokyo. Some chose to stay outside, fearing even their safe havens were endangered. 'I feel safer out here, the school building does not feel safe when it shakes,' said 50-year-old grandmother Kazoo Tacit as she huddled with her baby grandchild and scores of other homeless standing around outdoor fires. Hundreds were thought to remain trapped under crumbled buildings and highways. 'You see that building over there,' said Joyride Yamada pointing across a main road cutting through downtown Kobe. 'There are some bodies in there.
We tried to save them, we heard their voices but the flames came.' Yamada, a 58-year-old demolition worker, was on the second floor of the building when the temblor struck. He managed to scramble to safety. 'We had heard this was an area that was not supposed to have big quakes,' he said, just as a flimsy metal-faced corner-shop building that had been listing, collapsed onto the street some 24 hours after the quake. Estimates on the cost of damage from the quake ranged from $10 billion to more than $40 billion. Japan's Meteorological Agency said waves of aftershocks were steadily decreasing, but warned strong after-tremors could continue for several weeks. Kiyoo Mogi, head of the agency's earthquake disaster control council, said Tuesday's quake could signal a future large-scale temblor striking a trench in the Pacific Ocean, and renewed seismic activity in western Japan after about 50 years of stability. Experts said the shallowness of the quake was one of the major reasons it caused so much devastation. The temblor was centered about 12.5 miles (20 km) under Awaji Island, about 30 minutes by ferry from Kobe. The quake crippled much of the major infrastructure throughout greater Kobe, cutting telephones, power, water and gas, and paralyzing the region's extensive railroad system. City officials said it would take at least a year to rebuild the area's highways, and West Japan Railway Co. said it would be several months before full train service was restored. Wooden structures appeared worst hit. Scores were broken up and into pieces. Old stone walls had dropped liked bowling pins, while many roads in Kobe and even in nearby Osaka were bent, buckled and littered with rubble. Route 2 and Route 43, the only links to Kobe from its lifeline at Osaka some 40 miles (70 km) away, were clogged with cars, many of them impeding rescue vehicles that were heading for Kobe. Authorities said six ships were steaming to Kobe harbor with the backing of the Japanese navy bearing food, water and rescue provisions.