Further deaths and damage in region of Kumamoto on Kyushu island, with thousands evacuated, rescuers searching rubble and heavy rain forecast
A wrecked house in Mashiki after a second powerful earthquake hit Kumamoto prefecture on the island of Kyushu. Photograph: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images
A second major earthquake in less than two days has shaken Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, with at least 20 people thought to have been killed and more feared buried in building collapses and landslides.
The 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck at around 1.30am on Saturday, waking people across the island – including the thousands already in crisis centres. It caused widespread damage, with several landslides and a village evacuated over fears a dam might burst.
On Thursday a weaker magnitude 6.5 earthquake in the same region of Kumamoto brought down buildings, killed nine people and injured about 800. More than 100 aftershocks followed until the ultimately bigger quake on Saturday morning that led to the earlier, smaller event being reclassified as a foreshock.
Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, called off a visit to Kumamoto on Saturday given the worsened situation after the new earthquakes struck. “He was scheduled to visit Mashiki but now he does not think that would be the best use of his time,” Abe’s office told the Guardian.
The Japanese government’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said on Saturday that 1,500 people had been injured, 80 of them seriously, and casualty figures were likely to increase. Nearly 70,000 people had left their homes, he said.
Tsunami warnings were triggered by Saturday’s quake, though no tsunami eventuated, and there was confusion and anxiety for the thousands of evacuees who had already seen their homes destroyed or damaged.
Adding to an atmosphere already fraught with uncertainty, heavy rain was forecast for Saturday evening, bringing the risk of further landslides.
Japanese media reported nearly 200,000 homes were without electricity. Drinking water systems had also failed in some areas.
At a news conference on Saturday, Abe told reporters he wanted the government at all levels to share information in a timely manner.
The government planned to send 20,000 self-defence troops to Kumamoto by Sunday, Abe said. In addition, 5,500 police officers and members of the fire service would be sent to the prefecture. “Securing the safety of citizens is our top priority,” the prime minister told media.
On Saturday the latest destruction and aftershocks had left Kyushu on tenterhooks. The national broadcaster NHK showed people in evacuation centres once again in shock, fearing for the worst and unable to sleep.
“The earthquake last night was much worse than the one on Thursday,” said Yumiko Ogata at the Mashiki gymnastics centre, one of the evacuation stations. “People are holding up psychologically but nobody slept last night.”
For Ogata there was a bigger problem than the shaking. “We need food and we need water. We may just about get through lunch but we do not have anything for this evening.”
Earthquakes hit Japan
Kumamoto prefecture was again the worst hit. In the village of Aso a highway bridge was swept away by the force of a landslide; around 200 people were evacuated from the village of Nishimura as the Okirihata Dam was reported to be under structural strain; the Uto city hall partially collapsed; and around 150 patients had to be transferred from Kumamoto city hospital after the building’s ceiling came down. “We can no longer care for people here,” a hospital official told the Sankei newspaper.
NHK TV showed stones that had tumbled from the walls of historic Kumamoto Castle, and a smashed wooden structure in the complex. At the Ark hotel, east of the castle, hotel guests woke up to strong shaking and a warning siren. Hotel staff told guests, including tourists and journalists covering the quake, to evacuate their rooms and gather in the lobby for safety.
A bright spot, broadcast repeatedly on television on Friday, was the rescue of an apparently uninjured baby, wrapped in a blanket and carried out of the rubble of a home.
Kyushu Electric Power Co, the utility operating the island’s Sendai and Genkai nuclear power plants, said its reactors were unaffected. In Kumamoto, however, 163,000 homes were without power.
The Japan Meteorological Agency told media that a small eruption at Mount Aso, an active volcano in Kumamoto prefecture, was unrelated to the quakes.
Since Thursday evening southern Japan has been hit by a series of earthquakes that rated six or higher on the nation’s own scale. Seven is the maximum under the Japanese system, which measures the potential to cause damage rather than the energy of an earthquake.
Yukinori Hori, an official at the Sanrigi residents centre, said the more than 300 local people taking shelter there had enough to eat and drink and were stoic in the face of the disaster. “We have a lot of problems that we are not thinking about, because they are small and at least we have supplies and our lives.”
With Associated Press