A 7.3- magnitude strong earthquake struck Japan’s southern island of Kyushu early on Saturday, in the same region that was struck by a temblor that killed nine people and injured hundreds 28 hours earlier. Today’s earthquake killed at least another 17 people, sparked fires, triggered landslides and caused buildings to collapse trapping people under debris. It forced about 44,000 people to take shelter after buildings were damaged.
Sirens of patrol vehicles could be heard in the background as Public broadcaster NHK reported from Mashiki. At least 470 people are injured and 44 people are said to be in a critical condition at Saiseikai Kumamoto Hospital. Images of a collapsed two-floor apartment building in Minamiaso, were also aired by NHK, where residents, many of them students from a nearby Tokai University campus, were trapped inside.
The Japan Meteorological Agency said the latest earthquake struck at 1:25 a.m. local time and had a shaking reading of 6-plus, the second highest on a seven-level scale used in Japan. The epicenter of today’s earthquake was about 8 miles northwest of yesterday’s quake.
The meteorological agency said that the tremors earlier in the week were likely fore-shocks of Saturday’s main earthquake. Saturday’s quake affected a wider area of Kyushu than the previous one. Powerful aftershocks continued to rock the Kyushu area through the morning including one that was 4.6 in magnitude. The agency had also issued a tsunami warning that was lifted in less than an hour.
Japan is still assessing damages caused. Prime minister Shinzo Abe said damage from the quake could be extensive and urged rescue workers to do their utmost to help those trapped in the rubble. Japan’s Defense Minister further informed that 20,0000 soldiers will be deployed over the weekend to help rescue efforts.
In an emergency news conference early on Saturday, Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said that more than 300 calls came in to the Kumamoto police and another 100 to police in nearby Oita, seeking help and reporting people trapped or buried underneath debris. He said 1,600 soldiers had joined the relief and rescue efforts. TV reports showed troops delivering blankets and adult diapers to those in shelters.
Yoshihide Suga, also said that nearly 69,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Kumamoto prefecture as a safety measure though multiple areas in Kumamoto’s Minamiaso village remain isolated with rescuers unable to gain access. The government is preparing to increase the number of Self-Defense Forces members working at the scene to 20,000 from 2,000 within a few days.
The fire and disaster management agency said 66 people were trapped inside a nursing home in Mashiki, the town hit hardest, and rescue efforts were under way.
Five prefectures were impacted by the quake: Kumamoto, Oita, Saga, Nagasaki and Yamaguchi. As per the early reports, around 192,600 households are without power in three prefectures.
The Kumamoto airport was closed, and all flights were cancelled owing to damage that included falling roof panels, a representative of airline operator ANA Holdings Inc. said.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority said no abnormalities had been found at the Sendai nuclear plant while Kyushu Electric Power Co. said two nuclear power reactors in Kyushu had not been affected and continued to operate normally after the quake.
The latest quake also appeared to have triggered a small eruption of the Mt Aso volcano on Kyushu. The Japanese Meteorological Agency kept its alert level at 2 on a scale of 5 for the volcano.
Major companies handling operations in Japan halted operations to assess damages caused by the quake. Nissan Motor Co. halted operations at its vehicle-assembly plant in Fukuoka prefecture while Honda Motor Co., had stopped operating its motorbike plant in Kumamoto after the Thursday quake. Toyota Motor Corp., also halted operations at a vehicle plant and two parts plants in southern Japan.