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The strongest earthquake since the 2011 tsunami jolted Japan late on Thursday, bringing down buildings and trapping people under the debris. Rescue operations are under way. The number of buildings that have collapsed due to the quake and the count of people who have sustained injuries are mounting as news reports on the earthquake and aftershocks are pouring in. Latest updates from NHK point to 9 dead and over 900 injured. An estimated 44,000 have been evacuated, with 44 critically injured, according to Asahi Shimbun.  The Japan Meteorological Agency said the earthquake struck at 9:26 pm local time (12:26 p.m. GMT, 8:26 am EDT) and had a magnitude of 6.5. The epicenter was 7 miles underground, a relatively shallow quake. The US Geological Service put the magnitude at 6.2.

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At around 1503 GMT, another tremor struck the region, according to the USGS. It was initially measured at magnitude 6.4, before being revised down to 5.9. Again, there was no tsunami warning. In the town of Mashiki in Kumamoto Prefecture, local authorities said more than 20 homes have collapsed and several people are trapped under debris, including a woman who had lost consciousness. Several fires have also reportedly broken out in the town.

Rescuers in southern Japan were searching for trapped residents in at least two dozen collapsed houses even while the powerful quake knocked out power and water and swept people off their feet. Some 16,000 households in the area were without electricity and 38,000 homes had no gas supplies in Kumamoto, Japanese media reported.

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Japanese Red Cross Kumamoto Hospital said it has admitted or treated 45 people, including five with serious injuries. More than 100 people were being treated for injuries at three hospitals in Kumamoto City, hospital officials said. And one person was reportedly injured in each of the neighboring prefectures of Saga and Miyazaki, police there said. People living in Kumamoto city, the nearest large city to the epicenter, reported significant shaking and said items fell off shelves. Witnesses said that the tremors continued for 20 to 30 seconds. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters at his office in Tokyo that he would “exert every effort” to respond to the quake.

Places around Kumamoto also recorded strong jolts ranging between 3 and lower 5 on the Japanese scale. A fire also broke out in Mashiki, a town of about 34,000 people near the epicenter of the quake. NHK showed footage of firefighters tackling a blaze at a building. After the first tremor, the Nuclear Regulation Authority said there were no irregularities at three nuclear plants on the southernmost island of Kyushu and nearby Shikoku. Some high-speed trains were halted as a precaution. Japanese media showed watermelons falling from shelves at a supermarket in Kumamoto.

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. 

In the part of Kyushu near Mashiki, the earthquake had the shaking of 7, the highest level on a 7-level scale used in Japan, the Meteorological Agency said. Other more densely populated parts had lower but still significant levels of shaking. Aftershocks continued throughout the night. It was the first time the highest shaking measure was recorded in Japan since the March 11, 2011, earthquake in northern Japan that left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing and caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors. That earthquake had a much higher magnitude—9.0—and caused a devastating tsunami.

Asia has been witnessing massive earthquakes this week, Thursday’s being the fourth in less than four days. On Wednesday, a massive earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale rattled areas around the India-Myanmar border and its tremors were felt as far as the Indian capital of Delhi. Parts of north-eastern India, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and New Delhi shook, scaring the residents off their buildings. Two people lost their lives and more than 70 were injured in Assam. This was the second quake of that day in the northeast as a medium intensity temblor measuring 4.6 hit areas around Manipur capital Imphal at 9:26am. On Sunday, a 6.8-magnitude earthquake shook parts of Pakistan and regions bordering Afghanistan and Tajikistan around 3.58 pm. Six deaths were reported. Tremors were felt across Asia.

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