Rescue workers in Japan were mired in a “race against time” on Saturday to find survivors amid the rubble after a 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit a southern island, the second strong quake to hit the island since Thursday.
The two earthquakes killed at least 41 people and injured 1,500 but the death toll is expected to rise as many are thought to be trapped in the rubble of flattened houses. “The wind is expected to pick up and rain will likely get heavier,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. “Rescue operations at night will be extremely difficult … It’s a race against time.”
The government dispatched 20,000 self-defense forces to help out the rescue effort as around 170,000 people were told they should evacuate. But the heavy rain that started falling Saturday night will undoubtedly complicate relief operations and could even trigger fresh mudslides.
The epicenter for the quake on Saturday was near the city of Kumamoto and was at a depth of six miles. Experts immediately said the Saturday earthquake was so devastating because it was shallow and struck in the middle of a large population area. The 400-year-old Kumamoto Castle appears to have been badly damaged. “No question, this is a large and very important earthquake,” said Doug Given, a geophysicist with the USGS.
Dozens of families decided to spend Saturday night in their cars at a public park, fearing there could be another earthquake or strong aftershocks.