More than six hours after the powerful quake shook south-western Japan, rescuers pulled a baby girl in pink pyjamas from under a collapsed house in the dead of night, alive and unhurt.
The more than 50 rescue workers involved in the operation in the early hours yesterday let out whoops of joy and broke out in applause.
It was a moment that provided some relief from hours of back-breaking work marred by a series of aftershocks and a smell of leaking gas.
Eight-month-old Miku was found lying in a narrow space in the wreckage, reported Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun. She was gently carried away in a blanket.
Her mother Asami Nishimura, grandparents and elder brother managed to escape from the house, which collapsed in the aftermath of a magnitude-6.5 quake that struck Kyushu at 9.26pm local time (8.26pm Singapore time) on Thursday.
Although they tried to save Miku, who was asleep in a room on the first floor of their two-storey home, they could not reach her.
Their house was one of many that collapsed in Mashiki, a town in Kumamoto prefecture that is near the quake's epicentre, with a population of about 34,000 people.
The quake killed at least nine people, aged between 29 and 94. Eight of them were from Mashiki.
The ninth victim was Mr Tatsuya Sakamoto, 29, who worked in the kitchen of a canteen. The baseball lover, who used to play for his high school team, was visiting his girlfriend when the quake struck.
He was the youngest of three brothers, and according to Japanese daily Sankei Shimbun, his brother Tatsunori could only say before he choked up: "It must all be a lie..."
The buildings at risk included at least 10 schools and hospitals, including Kibogaoka Hospital whose 177 patients were transported to another centre.
More than 44,000 people fled to schools and community centres, some wrapped up in blankets to protect themselves from the night-time chill. Yet others spent the night in their cars.
One of those who fled their homes was Ms Emi Murakami, 40, who was at home with her daughter and two sons when the quake happened.
Even as they were evacuating their home, their house was reduced to rubble before their eyes.
"With every aftershock, I hug my children tightly to make sure they are safe," Ms Murakami told the Asahi Shimbun.
Ms Tomiko Takahashi, 94, said she had to escape her home by squeezing through a crack in the walls which had partially collapsed.
"I can't sleep because of the fear of aftershocks," she told the English daily Japan Times. "I've never experienced anything so frightening."