Rescue teams search for victims believed trapped in collapsed buildings, caught in landslides
By Todd Crowell
TOKYO – At least 22 people were confirmed dead Saturday after a strong earthquake collapsed buildings in southwestern Japan, where nine others were killed in an earlier temblor.
According to Kyodo news agency, nearly 2,000 people sustained injuries in the Kyushu region after the tremors Thursday night and early Saturday morning, which had magnitudes of 6.5 and 7.3, respectively.
Of the 909 confirmed wounded Saturday, 171 were considered serious cases.
The deaths from Saturday’s tremor were recorded across Kumamoto prefecture, mainly as a result of victims being crushed by collapsed buildings and falling furniture, according to the local government.
Japan’s weather agency said that a small-scale eruption occurred at Mt. Aso, but said any connection between the volcanic activity and tremors remained unclear.
Kumamoto police reported receiving around 100 reports of people trapped in toppled buildings, and 10 of people stuck in landslides.
Around 11 people including students are believed to be trapped under four apartment buildings that collapsed near Tokai University in Aso city.
Rescue teams continued searching into the evening as heavy rainfall was forecast to hit the area, raising concerns about the possibility of more landslides.
Hundreds of evacuees gathered at parks and covered themselves with blankets in Kumamoto city, where around 69,000 people evacuated their homes and power was cut to more than 150,000 households.
Part of the ceiling of the terminal building at Kumamoto airport caved in, resulting in the cancellation of all flights in and out of the airport, while the city hall of Uto partially collapsed.
Meanwhile, Minamiaso was hit by a large landslide that cut off a national highway and destroyed a bridge.
No abnormalities were reported at two operating reactors at a nuclear power plant in the Kyushu region.
More than 65 aftershocks struck the area as of 11 a.m. (0200GMT) following Saturday’s quake, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told an emergency meeting Saturday that the government would do its utmost and mobilize all available resources in response to the tremors.
Kyodo also cited Defense Minister Gen Nakatani saying that up to 15,000 Self-Defense Forces personnel would be deployed to Kumamoto within Saturday with another 5,000 to follow Sunday.