Two strong quakes kill 41 in Japan

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Tokyo, April 16 (IANS) A total of 41 people were killed and over 2,000 injured as two strong earthquakes — measuring 6.5 and 7.3 on the Richter Scale — rocked Kumamoto prefecture on Japan’s southernmost island of Kyushu on Saturday, officials said.

The Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) said the 6.5-magnitude quake — which was a foreshock to the one measuring 7.3 — killed at least nine people.

At least 32 people were later confirmed dead after the 7.3-magnitude earthquake rocked Kumamoto, Xinhua reported.

In Kumamoto, around 91,000 people were evacuated to over 680 shelters. Over 1,700 houses were damaged, including 1,400 in Nishihara village.

The JMA also warned that severe aftershocks might follow, and as heavy wind and rain was predicted in Kyushu from Saturday night, residents should be wary of landslides and other secondary disasters.

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The prefectural governments of Kumamoto and Oita have asked 160,000 residents in the danger zones to evacuate.

The 7.3 magnitude quake that struck at the depth of about 12 km triggered a tsunami warning which was later lifted. Numerous aftershocks followed the massive quake.

Till 5 p.m., more than 30 shocks over magnitude-4 were reported, causing extensive damage to the region.

Local media also reported a “small-scale” eruption at Mount Aso, a large active volcano in Kumamoto.

The JMA later said the eruption was not linked to the quakes.

In Minamiaso village, landslides buried 14 buildings, leaving two dead and four missing.

A total of 11 college students were trapped in the rubble of four collapsed buildings. Two of them died.

Water supply has been cut off in Kumamoto city and part of Oita prefecture, affecting 420,000 families.

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A blackout has affected 81,000 families in Kumamoto prefecture, according to the Kyushu Electric Power Company.

Traffic was halted on many expressways in the region. All commercial flights from Kumamoto Airport on Saturday were cancelled with no prospect of resuming operation on Sunday.

The Shinkansen Line service in Kyushu region was also halted through Saturday.

No abnormalities were observed at the Sendai nuclear power plant, the only operating nuclear facility in the area, and the nuclear power plant would not stop operation, said local reports.

The Japanese government said it had dispatched 15,000 Self-Defense Force personnel to the region and would send 10,000 more on Sunday to accelerate rescue and other operations.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference that significant damage was feared from the quakes and vowed that the central government would spare no efforts in response.

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