Dozens buried alive as second Kyushu earthquake rocks southern Japan
Death toll reaches 41 as scores are trapped and thousands of people are left stranded without power or water
Rescue teams were yesterday racing from house to crumpled house in Japan's southern island of Kyushu, frantically searching for signs of life after a 7.3-magnitude earthquake left at least 32 dead and set off huge landslides across the region.
Dozens were feared to have been buried alive and at least 1,000 people were being treated for injuries, many of them serious, after the second major earthquake since Thursday struck the area.
More than 90,000 were forced to flee their homes, including hundreds living close to a dam thought to be on the brink of collapse.
Entire hillsides fell away, entombing homes, roads and railway lines and cutting off isolated mountain villages. 20,000 troops fanned out across the region as authorities warned it was a race against time before a forecast storm heaped further misery on the island, threatening to set off more landslides.
"We are aware of multiple locations where people have been buried alive," chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.
Thursday's 6.2 magnitude quake alone was the worst to strike Japan since the 9.1 Great East Japan Earthquake struck off the north-east coast in March 2011, triggering a series of massive tsunamis and causing the deaths of around 19,000 people, as well as the meltdown of three of the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Three hours after the first earthquake, another 6.0 tremor struck directly beneath the city of Kumamoto, complicating the rescue efforts and bringing down structures that had already been weakened.
Residents were evacuated from damaged buildings, but there were hopes that the worst was over. Those were dashed at around 1.25am yesterday, however, when the main quake took place.
"When the first earthquake struck, there was almost a sense of relief because everyone always assumes a major quake is coming and when it happens, you think, 'Great, we've got another 30 years of peace and quiet'," said Sean Michael Wilson, a British expat. "But the one we had this morning was much bigger, much more violent and it really caught everyone out.
"I'd just put my pyjamas on to go to bed when it hit and it was chaos," he said. "Things were thrown around the house and I couldn't stand up. Walls and houses were coming down and because we all thought we had gone through the worst of it, people have been affected mentally very badly".
Japan's emergency services swung into action smoothly after the disaster, although the scale of the crisis means they are badly stretched.
Search and recovery efforts across Kyushu are focused on houses and apartment blocks that have collapsed, as well as hillside properties that have been engulfed in mud slides.
Yesterday evening, emergency teams were dealing with 97 reports of people trapped in collapsed buildings, with a further 10 caught in landslides across the mountainous central areas of Kyushu.
Some of those pulled from the rubble spoke of the horrifying moments when they found themselves trapped.
"The house started to shake, so I grabbed my cell phone and was about to run when the house came down", Fumio Iwamoto, 54, said.
Emergency services are warning people to stay away from their homes because aftershocks may be sufficiently powerful to cause damaged buildings to collapse.
More than 300 people are being treated in the wards and hallways of Japanese Red Cross Kumamoto Hospital, but medical teams are being hampered by power cuts.
Bridges and tunnels have collapsed, making it impossible for emergency teams to reach some of the more remote parts of Kyushu.
The city hall in Uto was largely destroyed and rail services have been halted until tracks can be repaired. More than 200,000 homes are without power and water supplies to nearly 400,000 homes have been severed.
Authorities, however, said there was no threat of a nuclear disaster akin to that unleashed in Fukushima in 2011, saying that there had been no damage reported at two nuclear power stations in Kagoshima and Saga prefectures.