KYUSHU – A 6.5-magnitude quake struckÂ the island of Kyushu, about 550 miles southwest of Tokyo yesterday, bringing down buildings, killing at least nine people and injuring hundreds, as rescuers scramble to find residents feared trapped in rubble.
The shallow magnitude-6.5 quake toppled houses and buckled roads in and around the prefectural capital on Thursday night in what was Kyushuâ€™s first level 7 temblor on the Japanese seismic intensity scale.
â€œIt was just like the Great Hanshin Earthquake or the Great East Japan Earthquake. I never thought I would experience that here,â€ mother-of-one Akiko Hakata told The Japan Times. â€œI hunched over my son to protect him.â€
â€œLast night, most people stayed outdoors, or stayed inside their car. It was so cold and frightening last night,â€ Hakata said.
Most of the victims were in the town of Mashiki, but heavy damage was incurred elsewhere, including in the capital and at historic Kumamoto Castle.
The quake struck at 9:26 p.m. at a depth of just 11 km, the Meteorological Agency said.
Officials are fielding hundreds of calls about damage and people trapped under debris, but multiple aftershocks are disrupting rescue operations.
At a collapsed house in Mashiki, however, an 8-month-old girl was pulled alive from the rubble 6Â½ hours after the quake.
More than 50 policemen and firefighters helped rescue Asami Nishimura from her home, where the second floor collapsed. Her daughter, Miku, was asleep downstairs when the quake struck.
Tens of thousands of residents from Mashiki and other towns packed into public shelters for the night.
Emergency food supplied at one center in Mashiki on Friday morning ran out immediately, but supplies recommenced later in the day.
Residents called it the most frightening night of their lives.
At one evacuation center, Tomiko Takahashi, 94, recounted being awakened by a loud noise. When the door refused to open, she got out by squeezing through a crack in the walls, which had partially collapsed.
â€œI have never experienced something so frightening,â€ she said.
Hakata and her husband were looking for food and a place to charge their phones in Mashiki but said they plan to evacuate to Kumamoto by car because they heard the city still has water and electricity.
Ayumi Ishikawa, 34, said she and her family fled their home without many belongings.
â€œIâ€™m sure we have to be ready for a prolonged evacuation, but I donâ€™t have a sense of reality about this,â€ Ishikawa said.
Mashiki tourism official Shinji Takahashi said 20 to 30 percent of the buildings in the town collapsed.
â€œThere are 34,000 people living here, so we are preparing four or five elementary schools and libraries to be used as a shelter tonight, and probably for a while,â€ Takahashi said.
Although volunteers have stepped forward to help coordinate the work, he said more manpower is needed.
â€œWe are short of staff. If we go on like this, we will be going three or four days without sleep.â€
Self-Defense Forces troops have been deployed, and the National Police Agency said it has dispatched 1,084 officers from 19 prefectures to help.
The injured are being treated around the town hall, where food and water are being distributed.
At a hastily set up medical center, a 16-year-old girl who was diagnosed with a depressed skull fracture she said could not remember what happened.
Power was cut in many areas, and gas leaks prompted Saibu Gas Co. to turn off supplies to some homes in the capital. Tens of thousands of households were without water.
The full extent of damage became clear on Friday.
A number of buildings collapsed, but many more sustained cracks or other structural damage that may render them uninhabitable.
Kumamoto Castle, a designated important national treasure and arguably the prefectureâ€™s No. 1 tourist attraction, sustained heavy damage.
Part of the castleâ€™s main wall collapsed and tiles fell from its roof. Massive stone embankments crumbled in at least six locations, and numerous cracks emerged in the walls, according to the castleâ€™s management office.
The damage in Mashiki may take a long time to repair. Roads were ripped apart and smashed kawara tiles and broken walls are everywhere.
Walking down the street is hazardous, given the many cracks in the asphalt and debris falling from buildings.
There is no running water and stores are shut â€” and all the while, aftershocks continue to jolt the neighborhood.
The epicenter was only 120 km from Kyushu Electric Power Co.â€™s Sendai power station in Kagoshima, Japanâ€™s only active nuclear plant.
Kyushu Electric said there were no abnormalities in the plant, adding that it is looking into any possible damage.
Shikoku Electric Power Co. said its idled Ikata nuclear plant in Ehime Prefecture sustained no damage.
JR Kyushu suspended operations on the Kyushu Shinkansen Line following the quake. On the Sanyo Shinkansen Line, which connects Honshu to Kyushu, power was lost between Hakata and Kokura stations but operations later resumed at around 9:40 p.m.
The Meteorological Agency said it was the first intensity-7 quake since the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 and the first earthquake of such a scale to hit Kyushu.
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