A more powerful quake hit southern Japan early Saturday, killing at least 10 people, toppling large buildings and triggering a massive landslide just over a day after an earlier tremor which left nine dead.
Scores of people were feared trapped after the overnight quake on the southwestern island of Kyushu sparked a fresh wave of destruction in a region where nerves were already frayed following Thursday’s deadly earthquake.
The powerful shaking set off a huge landslide that swept away homes and cut off a highway in one area, and unlike the earlier quake which mostly affected old houses, larger buildings were damaged and some toppled across Kumamoto prefecture, the epicenter of the quakes.
The city office in Uto was badly damaged and said to be in danger of collapse, while aerial footage shot by broadcaster TBS showed the toppled centuries-old Aso shrine, its main gates flattened and wooden columns reduced to rubble.
Separately, an active volcano in the area erupted Saturday morning, a local government official said, cautioning, however that it was unclear if the small-scale event was linked to the quakes.
Tomoyuki Tanaka, an official with the Kumamoto prefectural government, said 10 were confirmed dead after Saturday’s quake, bringing the total since Thursday to 19.
Public broadcaster NHK, meanwhile, put Saturday’s death toll at 15 and said there were at least 760 people injured, while a government spokesperson said scores were trapped or buried alive.
There were also 11 people stuck in a damaged university apartment building in Minami-Aso near the landslide, another prefecture official said, adding their condition was unknown and it was unclear if all were students. TBS said seven of them had so far been rescued.
In nearby Kumamoto city, authorities evacuated patients from a hospital over fears it could collapse and images showed the tilted building.
Japan Meteorological Agency official Gen Aoki said Saturday’s quake was the strongest to hit in recent days, and that Thursday’s was merely a “precursor”.
The US Geological Survey measured the quake at magnitude 7.0, or 6.3 times bigger than the 6.2 tremor recorded on Thursday.
The quake struck at 1:25 am (1625 GMT Friday) at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometers.
Japan Meteorological Agency, which put the magnitude at a revised 7.3, initially issued a tsunami warning for the western coast of Kyushu but later lifted it.
Some 20,000 personnel will be deployed to the area over the weekend to help rescue efforts, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani told reporters.