Japan earthquakes: 41 dead, storm to hit rescue efforts tonight

Japan continues to shake after a stronger earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale hit the country bringing down bridges and buildings and trapping people under them.  The government says there were “triple” quakes in 3 separate areas: Kumamoto city (M7.3 at 1:25AM), Aso district (M5.8 at 3:55AM), and neighboring Ōita prefecture (M5.3 at 7:11AM). Japan’s Jiji press is reporting 41 deaths from the triple quakes and the 6.2 quake on the 14th. Most deaths were attributed to suffocation in flattened houses and buildings. Over 90,000 people are reportedly evacuated.

Heavy rain and strong winds are forecast in the region for Sunday and are expected to cause more landslides and complicate rescue efforts. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned that rescuers are in a “race against time” to find survivors of a powerful earthquake amid forecasts of heavy rain and cold overnight. “Rescue operations throughout the night in the Kyushu region will be extremely difficult.”

More than 1,500 people are reportedly injured. Some of the people hurt were from surrounding prefectures, including Miyazaki, Saga and Fukuoka. But the most damage occurred in Kumamoto and Aso district. Hundreds of patients were evacuated early Saturday from the 500-bed city hospital in Kumamoto that was one of several buildings nearly demolished by the quake, according to the Japanese broadcaster NHK.

The tremblor in Aso district, northeast of Mashiki, appears to have triggered an eruption at Mt. Aso, Japan’s largest active volcano. The eruption took place at 8:30 am local time and spewed a plume of volcanic ash over 320 feet high. But the Japan Meteorological Agency says the volcanic activity is still small scale.
The Meteorological Agency said earlier that today’s second earthquake was the main event or “honshin” and that the one on April 14 was merely a prelude or “zenshin.”
Japan News Network earlier reported that 69,000 have been evacuated.
Many people are reportedly stranded in buildings and are said to be using social media like Twitter to summon help. Multiple fires have broken out in affected areas and a bridge in Aso district has collapsed, as has a nearby dormitory at Tokai University. Eleven students that were reported trapped at the dormitory have been rescued. One student is in cardiac arrest. The government says it’s mobilizing 25,000 soldiers to conduct rescue operations along with 3,000 police officers.

There was no tsunami warning and the nuclear reactors are reported to be safe. The death toll will likely continue to be revised as a huge number of people are reportedly caught under concrete and calls from those trapped are pouring in. Meanwhile, television channels broadcast visuals of rescue workers clearing debris in search of victims alive underneath. Roads, bridges, tunnels, homes and buildings suffered severe damage. Huge landslides have cut off remote mountain villages. Some 100,000 households remain without power while around 400,000 homes are without water.

After the Thursday earthquake jolted Japan, many aftershocks were felt before the latest powerful quake. Japanese broadcaster NHK said there were multiple reports of fresh injuries and that a bridge in Kumamoto city had collapsed. Videos showed the ground shaking and homes reduced to rubble. It was reported that the quake shook the Kumamoto region at 1.25 am local time on Saturday. Japan’s Meteorological Agency issued an advisory for a tsunami up to 3 feet high along the coast west of the epicenter in Kumamoto but the advisory was lifted less than an hour later.

Aso-ohashi (bridge) fell into the Kurokawa river (center). A huge landslide is on the left.

Aso-ohashi (bridge) fell into the Kurokawa river (center). A huge landslide is on the left.

Roads cracked. But the Nuclear Regulation Authority reported no abnormalities at the Sendai nuclear plant, where the only two of Japan’s 43 operable reactors are online. NHK video showed that stones tumbled from the walls of the historic Kumamoto Castle and a wooden structure in the complex was smashing, adding to damage caused on Thursday at the site.

Friday’s earthquake was centered a half mile from Kumamoto, the capital city of the Kumamoto prefecture on the island of Kyushu, according to the US Geological Survey. Mashiki, a suburb of Kumamoto, was the worst-hit town in Thursday’s quake. The Japan Meteorological Agency said over 160 aftershocks were recorded by Friday evening and warned more strong tremors could occur in the coming days, Kyodo news agency reported. The US National Tsunami Warning Center reported that there is no tsunami threat to British Columbia, Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California.

It may be noted that a quake of magnitude 9 struck offshore north of Tokyo in March 2011, causing tsunami waves along the coast which killed nearly 20,000 people and triggered a meltdown at a nuclear power plant.

An unexplained carpet of foamy bubbles covered the streets of Fukuoka Saturday shortly after tremors struck. Twitter users posted pictures of the mysterious foam. “I saw it just after the earthquake,” said Kazuki Nabeta, who lives in the busy central district of Tenjin, where the bubbles were found.



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