At least 34 believed dead and about 1,500 injured with thousands more evacuated as rescuers search through rubble
A second major earthquake in less than two days has shaken Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, with at least 34 people thought to have been killed, about 1,500 injured and more feared buried after building collapses and landslides.
The 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck at about 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, Shinzō Abe, expressed concerns about secondary disasters from mudslides as the weather forecast for the area predicted wet weather and strong winds.
Rain began falling at about 3pm local time, with torrential downpours anticipated through the night. The Fukuoka Meteorological Agency estimated that 100mm-150mm of rain would fall on Kumamoto over the next 24 hours, increasing the risk of landslides.
“Daytime today is the big test” for rescue efforts, Abe said. He 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,” his office told the Guardian.
Before the torrential rain began, 4,200 households in the mountainous town of Misato were told to evacuate, along with 40 in the village of Nishihara and 5,200 in Oita prefecture’s city of Yufu, which also suffered damage in the earthquake. More than 15,000 people have been affected by the orders.
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.
He said the military presence would be boosted to 20,000 for rescue efforts. Police and firefighters are also being ordered to the region.
In a nationally televised news conference, Suga asked people not to panic. “Please let’s help each other and stay calm,” he said.
Tsunami warnings were triggered by Saturday’s quake, though none took place, and there was confusion and anxiety for the thousands of evacuees whose homes had already been destroyed or damaged.
One massive landslide tore open a mountainside in Minamiaso village in Kumamoto prefecture from the top to a road below, destroying a key bridge that could cut off food and other relief transport to the worst hit area.
Another landslide hit a road, collapsing a house that fell down a ravine. In another part of the village, houses were left hanging precariously at the edge of a huge hole cut open in the earth.