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TOKYO — A second major earthquake struck southwestern Japan early Saturday, leveling homes and buildings, damaging roads and bridges, and triggering a massive landslide.

Kyodo News Service reported 11 dead in the latest quake, bringing the death toll so far to 20. Many others were feared trapped in homes or apartments that collapsed after the quake struck at about 1:25 a.m., Saturday, local time.

The magnitude-7.3 temblor follows a magnitude-6.5 earthquake that struck the same region late Thursday. Both quakes were centered in Kumamoto Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, one of the country's four main islands.

Officials from the Japan Meteorological Agency said Saturday’s quake was believed to be the “main quake” following a series of “precursor” events and aftershocks that began Thursday. Nine people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in Thursday’s quake, according to police reports.

A huge landslide swept away homes and severed a major highway near the town of Minami-Aso and a large bridge was knocked from its foundations.

In Kumamoto City, a 500-bed municipal hospital was one of several buildings nearly demolished by the quake and officials were evacuating patients, according to the national broadcaster NHK.

Amid fears that heavy rains could trigger more landslides, the government was rushing thousands of waterproof tarps to the region to help the indeterminate number of people left homeless by the quakes.

Kumamoto is a largely rural, mountainous region and is less densely populated than much of Japan. Many older homes and structures lack modern earthquake-mitigation technology found elsewhere in the country and are considered more vulnerable to powerful quakes.

Kyodo News Service reported that that nearly 200,000 homes in the region were without electricity. Drinking water systems had also failed in the area.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at an emergency news conference early Saturday in Tokyo that more than 400 calls came in to police in Kumamoto City and nearby Oita seeking help and reporting people trapped or buried beneath debris.

Suga said 1,600 members of the Japan Self Defense Force had joined the rescue efforts and Defense Minister Gen Nakatani told reporters that a total of 20,000 troops would be deployed to the area over the weekend.

About 50,000 U.S. troops are based in Japan but the Japanese government so far has not requested help from the international community, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said.

"We offer our condolences for those affected by the earthquakes in Kumamoto. The U.S. Government is ready to offer support if and when needed,” said spokesperson Marrie Schaefer.”

NHK showed video of stones tumbling from the walls of historic Kumamoto Castle, and a wooden structure in the complex was smashed.

A bright spot, broadcast repeatedly on television Friday, was the overnight rescue of an apparently uninjured baby, wrapped in a blanket and carried out of the rubble of a home.

Tag(s) : #Asia-Pacific

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