MASHIKI, Japan: Rescuers were scrambling to find survivors on Friday after a powerful earthquake in southern Japan that left at least nine people dead and hundreds injured, sparking fires and buckling roads.
Tens of thousands of people fled their homes after the 6.5 magnitude quake struck the southwestern island of Kyushu last night, leaving lumps of broken concrete strewn in the streets.
Houses collapsed, factories stopped work and a high-speed train was de-railed, while the roof of the treasured Kumamoto castle in the southern city of the same name was also damaged.
“The house shook up and down,” said Nobuyuki Morita, 67, a resident of the worst hit town of Mashiki in Kumamoto prefecture, adding that he was watching TV at home when the quake struck.
“I was really surprised,” he said. “I had never experienced such a big quake since I was born.”
He and his wife spent the night in their car as the roof of their house had collapsed and furniture toppled over.
Dozens of aftershocks followed the quake, which hit about 1226 GMT last evening, and officials warned the death toll could rise as rescuers scoured the collapsed structures.
As rescue workers toiled through the night, an eight-month-old baby girl was pulled from the rubble alive and unharmed, NHK reported.
“As far as we can tell from infrared images from a police helicopter, there appears to be a significant number of houses destroyed or half-collapsed,”said disaster minister Taro Kono.
“There are fears the number of injured could rise.”
Rescuers are concentrating their searches in Mashiki, near the epicentre of the quake where the most deaths have been recorded.
On the streets, the remains of collapsed Japanese-style houses — many of then aged, wooden structures — could be seen, and damaged roof tiles lay in piles.
A rescue team with several search dogs patrolled around half-collapsed houses in the town.
But no new deaths have been announced for more than eight hours, suggesting that many among the thousands forced to flee their collapsed or unstable homes may have escaped alive.
Scores of people spent the night huddled in front of Mashiki’s town hall, some in tears, while others wrapped themselves in blankets to ward off the nighttime chill.
“I’m so scared of the aftershocks that I cannot sleep,” 94-year-old Tomiko Takahashi told Jiji Press.
By today morning, the government said it had confirmed at least 860 people had been injured, at least 53 seriously. An official from the local Kumamoto disaster agency said at least nine were dead.