Rescuers search for quake survivors as strong aftershocks hit south-western Japan

Rescue workers using a stretcher to carry a woman who was rescued from a collapsed house in Mashiki town, Kumamoto prefecture, southern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on April 15, 2016.
Rescue workers using a stretcher to carry a woman who was rescued from a collapsed house in Mashiki town, Kumamoto prefecture, southern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on April 15, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
Damage to Kumamoto Castle caused by an earthquake is seen in Kumamoto, southern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on April 15, 2016.
Damage to Kumamoto Castle caused by an earthquake is seen in Kumamoto, southern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on April 15, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
Local residents wrapping themselves in blankets as they sit on the road after they are evacuated from their home after an earthquake in Mashiki town, Kumamoto prefecture, southern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on April 15, 2016.
Local residents wrapping themselves in blankets as they sit on the road after they are evacuated from their home after an earthquake in Mashiki town, Kumamoto prefecture, southern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on April 15, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
Local residents walking next to a collapsed wall after an earthquake in Mashiki town, Kumamoto prefecture, southern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on April 14, 2016.
Local residents walking next to a collapsed wall after an earthquake in Mashiki town, Kumamoto prefecture, southern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on April 14, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS
 Residents of Mashiki wrap themselves in blankets as they sit on the road in front of the town office building after an earthquake in Japan's Kumamoto prefecture.
Residents of Mashiki wrap themselves in blankets as they sit on the road in front of the town office building after an earthquake in Japan's Kumamoto prefecture. PHOTO: REUTERS
Firefighters check a collapsed house after an earthquake in Mashiki town early Friday morning (April 15).
Firefighters check a collapsed house after an earthquake in Mashiki town early Friday morning (April 15).PHOTO: REUTERS
People standing outside a hotel in Kumamoto city after being evacuated following an earthquake, on April 14, 2016.
People standing outside a hotel in Kumamoto city after being evacuated following an earthquake, on April 14, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS/KYODO
A magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck Japan's southern Kumamoto prefecture on April 14, 2016.
A magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck Japan's southern Kumamoto prefecture on April 14, 2016.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM USGS
Shattered glass lies on the ground outside a pachinko parlour in Kumamoto city after a 6.4-magnitude quake struck on April 14, 2016.
Shattered glass lies on the ground outside a pachinko parlour in Kumamoto city after a 6.4-magnitude quake struck on April 14, 2016.PHOTO: YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
Broken dishes are seen at a restaurant after an earthquake in Kumamoto, southern Japan on April 14, 2016.
Broken dishes are seen at a restaurant after an earthquake in Kumamoto, southern Japan on April 14, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS/KYODO
Wine and broken glass bottles are seen on the floor of a convenience store in Kumamoto prefecture.
Wine and broken glass bottles are seen on the floor of a convenience store in Kumamoto prefecture.PHOTO: TWITTER/@LOVELOVESITAI
Broken masonry is seen by a road near Kumamoto castle in Kumamoto city, following an earthquake, on April 14, 2016.
Broken masonry is seen by a road near Kumamoto castle in Kumamoto city, following an earthquake, on April 14, 2016.PHOTO: TWITTER/@POUTAAAN

MASHIKI, JAPAN (AFP) - Rescuers were rifling through the remains of collapsed building in south-western Japan on Friday (April 15), after a powerful earthquake left at least nine people dead and injured hundreds, sparking fires and buckling roads.

Tens of thousands of people fled their homes after the 6.5-magnitude quake struck the south-western island of Kyushu on Thursday night, leaving lumps of broken concrete strewn in the streets.

Houses collapsed, factories stopped work and a high-speed train was derailed, while the roof of the treasured Kumamoto castle in the southern city of the same name was also damaged.

“There was a ka-boom and the whole house shook violently sideways,” Mr Takahiko Morita, a resident of nearby town Mashiki, said in a telephone interview with public broadcaster NHK. “Furniture and bookshelves fell down, and books were all over the floor.”

Dozens of aftershocks followed the quake, which hit at about 9.26pm local time (8.26pm Singapore time) on Thursday, and officials warned the death toll could rise as rescuers scoured the collapsed structures.

 As rescue workers toiled through the night, an eight-month-old baby girl was pulled from the rubble alive and unharmed, NHK reported.

“As far as we can tell from infrared images from a police helicopter, there appears to be a significant number of houses destroyed or half-collapsed,” said Disaster Minister Taro Kono. “There are fears the number of injured could rise.” 

Rescuers are concentrating their searches in Mashiki, a town near the epicentre of the quake where most deaths have been recorded.

On the streets, the remains of collapsed Japanese-style houses – many of then aged, wooden structures – could be seen, and damaged roof tiles lay in piles.

Scores of people spent the night huddled in front of the town hall, some in tears, while others wrapped themselves in blankets to ward off the night time chill.

“I’m so scared of the aftershocks that I cannot sleep,” 94-year-old Tomiko Takahashi told Jiji Press.

By Friday morning, the government said it had confirmed at least 860 people had been injured, at least 53 seriously. An official from the local Kumamoto disaster agency said at least nine were dead.

 
 
 

“We are combing through Mashiki where the damage was serious to see if there are any people who are still seeking rescue,” said government spokesman Yoshihide Suga.

 

Gen Aoki, a Japan Meteorological Agency seismologist, urged residents to be on guard for more aftershocks and warned rain in coming days could make the situation worse.

“Please do not go near damaged houses and structures that are about to collapse,” he said at an early morning briefing.

Nuclear plants in the region were unaffected, but several major manufacturers including Honda, Bridgestone, and Sony said they had suspended operations at factories in the area.

Train services on Kyushu were temporarily halted after Thursday’s earthquake and a super fast bullet train derailed – luckily while it was empty – said Mr Yusuke Nanri, a spokesman for operator JR Kyushu.

Some 1,600 military personnel were joined by nearly 2,000 police officers and more than 1,300 fire fighters to help in the search and rescue efforts, Mr Suga said early Friday.

The initial quake, which struck at a shallow depth of 10km, was followed two and a half hours later by another measuring 6.4 magnitude, according to Japan’s meteorological agency. The US Geological Survey measured it at a smaller 6.2 magnitude.

In total, more than 100 earthquakes rocked the region after the first hit, and officials warned the could continue for a week or so.

Japan’s two sole operating nuclear reactors, located on Kyushu, were functioning normally, an official at the Sendai plant told AFP.

Japan, one of the most seismically active countries in the world, has been particularly on edge over the vulnerability of nuclear power plants after a massive undersea quake on March 11, 2011, that sent a tsunami barrelling into the country’s northeast coast.

Some 18,500 people were left dead or missing, and several nuclear reactors went into meltdown at the Fukushima plant in the worst atomic accident in a generation.

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