TOKYO • Japanese rescuers were digging through the rubble of buildings and mud yesterday to reach dozens believed trapped after a powerful 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck the southern island of Kyushu, killing at least 32 people and injuring about a thousand.
The shallow earthquake hit in the early hours, sending people fleeing from their beds onto dark streets, and followed a 6.4 magnitude quake on Thursday, which killed nine people in Kumamoto prefecture. About 190 of those injured were in serious condition, the government said.
There were also concerns for those trapped under rubble overnight, with heavy rain forecast and the temperature expected to drop to 13 deg C, adding extra urgency to the rescue effort.
"The wind is expected to pick up and rain will likely get heavier. Rescue operations at night will be extremely difficult... It's a race against time," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a government meeting. "But there are people waiting for help. Please do your utmost while putting top priority on human lives."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said nearly 80 people were believed trapped or buried in rubble. He said extra troops would be sent to help in rescue and relief efforts, with up to 20,000 due by today, as well as more police, firefighters and medics.
"We are making every effort to respond," Mr Suga said.
More than 90,000 people have been evacuated, including 300 from an area close to a dam thought to be at risk of collapse. About 422,000 households were without water, and about 100,000 without electricity, the government said.
Troops were setting up tents for evacuees and water trucks were being sent to the area.
The region's transport network suffered considerable damage with one tunnel caved in, a highway bridge damaged, roads cut or blocked by landslides and train services halted, media reported. Kumamoto airport was also closed.
The quake triggered a tsunami advisory which was later lifted.
The temblor yesterday was followed by a series of aftershocks that were almost at the top of Japan's intensity scale. There have been more than 230 aftershocks of at least level 1 on the Japanese scale since Thursday's shock, said Japan's meteorological agency.
The shaking was most powerful close to Mount Aso, an active volcano and popular tourist site. A small eruption was spotted at Mt Aso after the quake, NHK reported.
"We have already seen several of the mid to upper 5 plus magnitude range, and over the next several days and weeks, we would not be surprised to see more earthquakes of this size," Dr John Bellini, a geophysicist with the US Geological Survey (USGS), told Reuters.
The epicentre of yesterday's quake was near the city of Kumamoto and measured at a shallow depth of 10km, USGS said. The shallower a quake, the more likely it is to cause damage.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG