Nine people were killed after a powerful earthquake hit southern Japan, toppling homes, sparking fires and injuring hundreds, officials said Friday, as rescuers scrambled to find residents feared trapped in rubble.
Tens of thousands of people fled their homes after the 6.5-magnitude quake struck the southwestern island of Kyushu, buckling roads and leaving lumps of broken concrete strewn in the streets.
Dozens of aftershocks followed the quake, which hit on Thursday evening around 9:26 pm (1226 GMT), and officials warned the death toll could rise as rescuers scoured the collapsed buildings.
“I felt quite strong jolts, which I had never experienced before,” Shunsuke Sakuragi, a prefectural official in the city of Kumamoto, told AFP. “People were shocked.”
By Friday morning, the government said it had confirmed at least 761 people had been injured, at least 44 seriously. An official from the local Kumamoto disaster agency said at least nine were dead.
As the death toll rose through the night, an eight-month-old baby girl was pulled from the rubble alive and unharmed, public broadcaster 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.”
In the town of Mashiki, scores of people gathered in front the town hall following the powerful shaking, some in tears while others wrapped themselves in blankets to ward off the nighttime chill.
Nuclear plants in the region were unaffected, but several major manufacturers including Honda, Bridgestone, and Sony said they had suspended operations at factories in the area.
Train services on Kyushu were temporarily halted after Thursday’s earthquake and a super fast bullet train derailed — luckily while it was empty — said Yusuke Nanri, a spokesman for operator JR Kyushu.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged the government would do everything possible to support search-and-rescue work and help those who had fled their homes.
“We are doing everything to avoid a second disaster because of aftershocks, and to offer the necessary help to those affected,” he told reporters Friday morning.