Strong quake hurts 45 in south Japan; people may be trapped

A powerful earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.4 knocked over houses in southern Japan on Thursday evening, and police said people may be trapped underneath.

Japanese Red Cross Kumamoto Hospital said it has admitted or treated 45 people, including five with serious injuries.

The quake struck at 9:26 p.m. near Kumamoto city on the island of Kyushu. There was no risk of a tsunami.

"There was a ka-boom and the whole house shook violently sideways," Takahiko Morita, a resident of Mashiki, a hard-hit town near the epicenter, said in a telephone interview with Japanese broadcaster NHK. "Furniture and bookshelves fell down, and books were all over the floor."

Morita said some houses and walls collapsed in his neighborhood, and water supply had been cut off.

Police in Kumamoto prefecture said they have received reports of a number of collapsed houses and people possibly trapped inside.

Mashiki is 15 kilometers (9 miles) east of Kumamoto city, and about 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that damage was being assessed, but there were no abnormalities at nearby nuclear facilities.

The epicenter was 120 kilometers (74 miles) northeast of the Sendai nuclear plant, the only one operating in the country.

NHK showed Mashiki town hall in the dark, apparently having lost power. Other footage showed rubble on the road, shards of glass and broken windows, and fire breaking out in some places, with firefighters battling an orange blaze.

Keisukei Urata, an official in nearby Uki city who was driving home when the quake struck, said parts of the ceiling at Uki City Hall collapsed, windows broke and cabinets fell to the ground.

Kasumi Nakamura, an official in the village of Nishihara, said that the rattling started modestly and grew violent, lasting about 30 seconds.

"Papers, files, flower vases and everything fell on the floor," he told NHK.

There were multiple aftershocks, the largest one measuring magnitude 5.7 about 40 minutes later, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

The U.S. Geological Survey measured the quake’s preliminary magnitude at 6.2 and said it was 23 kilometers (14 miles) deep. It said there’s a low likelihood of casualties but some damage is possible.

Footage from an NHK bureau in the area showed books, files and papers raining down to the floor. One employee appeared to have fallen off a chair, while others slid under their desks to protect their heads.

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