TOKYO – Rescuers went house to house Friday looking for victims of a powerful earthquake that struck southwestern Japan late Thursday.
At least nine people were killed and more than 700 injured in the magnitude 6.5 quake that centered on the island of Kyushu, one of Japan’s four main islands, according to local news reports.
The quake registered the maximum intensity level of 7 on the Japanese seismic scale, the highest since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan. More than 16,000 people were killed and 2,500 remain missing in that disaster.
Thursday’s quake had not produced a tsunami, but more than 100 aftershocks had occurred through early Friday, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.
The agency warned that more aftershocks – some as strong as magnitude 6 — were expected to occur over the next several days. Spokesperson Gen Aoki said people in stricken areas should be prepared for the possible collapse of buildings and landslides.
The earthquake struck the area of Kumamoto Prefecture at about 9:26 p.m. Thursday, the meteorological agency said.
Japanese television interrupted regular programming to show live video of burning homes and rubble. At least 16,000 homes lost power, according to Nippon Television. Bullet train operations in the area were temporarily halted.
Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said at a press conference that Japan Self Defense Force troops, planes and helicopters were being sent to the area to assess the damage and help with rescue operations.
None of the nuclear power plants in the affected area reported damage, according to a statement released by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office.
Some 23,000 people were taking shelter at about 350 sites in the prefecture by early Friday, according to the Kyodo News Service. Eight people were reported missing.
According to police and firefighters, about 20 houses collapsed in and around Mashiki, trapping people in buildings and under debris.