Reports of deaths and people trapped inside buildings after second quake in as many nights in Kumamoto region on island of Kyushu
A powerful earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.3 has struck southern Japan barely 24 hours after a smaller quake hit the same region and killed nine people.
Police on Saturday were reported as saying that at least six people had been killed. Authorities said hundreds of calls had come in from residents reporting people trapped inside houses and buildings on the island of Kyushu.
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.
The latest quake also appeared to have triggered a small eruption of the Mt Aso volcano on Kyushu. Public broadcaster NHK said smoke rose about 100 metres in the air. The Japanese Meteorological Agency kept its alert level at 2 on a scale of 5 for the volcano
More than 400 people were treated at hospitals after the quake, which shook the Kumamoto region at 1.25am local time on Saturday, followed by several aftershocks.
Japan’s meteorological agency issued but later lifted a temporary advisory for a tsunami of up to one metre high along the coast west of the epicentre.
The agency upgraded the magnitude to 7.3 from an initial reading of 7.1. Compared to the quake that struck late on Thursday night just south of Mashiki, the most recent quake and aftershocks appeared to be moving east, spreading damage to the north-east.
Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga, in an emergency news conference early on Saturday, said 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.
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.
Sirens of patrol vehicles could be heard in the background as NHK reported from Mashiki. The tarmac outside the town hall had a new crack, apparently made by the latest earthquake.
In the nearby city of Uto, police reported that the city hall appeared to be unsafe because of damage.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority said no abnormalities had been found at the Sendai nuclear plant, where the only two of Japan’s 43 operable reactors are online.
NHK video showed that stones had tumbled from the walls of the historic Kumamoto Castle, and a wooden structure in the complex had been smashed, adding to damage caused on Thursday at the site.
Japan earthquake: tens of thousands flee in fear of aftershocks and volcanoes
Thursday’s weaker, magnitude 6.5 earthquake brought down buildings and injured about 800 people. More than 100 aftershocks followed. Since Saturday’s quake was bigger, Thursday’s was technically a foreshock.
Police said on Friday that concern about aftershocks was keeping many people from starting the task of cleaning up. About 44,000 people stayed in shelters after Thursday’s quake.
Of those who died, five were women and four men, the fire and disaster management agency said.
One man was in his 20s, and the rest of the victims ranged from their 50s to one woman in her 90s. Eight of the nine victims were from Mashiki.
The government’s chief spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said at least 860 people had been injured, 53 seriously, but other reports put the headline figure at 784.
Suga said 1,600 soldiers had joined the relief and rescue efforts. TV reports showed troops delivering blankets and adult diapers to those in shelters. With water service cut off in some areas, residents were hauling water from local offices to their homes to flush toilets.
Most of Japan’s nuclear reactors remain offline following the Fukushima meltdowns in 2011 after a magnitude-9.0 earthquake triggered a tsunami.
Mashiki sits near two faults and is also near Mount Aso, a huge active volcano.