Powerful earthquake strikes southern Japan, killing at least 19

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A powerful 7.3-magnitude has struck southern Japan near the city of Kumamoto, just over a day after a strong but smaller earthquake shook the same region, seismologists say. The latest earthquake has killed at least 19 people and injured more than 1,000 others.

The earthquake, which struck at 1:25 a.m. local time on Saturday, was centered about 1 kilometer (0.5 mile) southwest of Kumamoto. It struck about 12 kilometers (7.4 miles) deep, making it a very shallow earthquake, according to seismologists.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) put the preliminary magnitude of Saturday’s earthquake at 7.3, a significant increase from its initial estimate of 7.1. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) put its preliminary magnitude at 7.0, with a further revision likely.

Violent shaking has been felt locally, with strong shaking throughout the wider region. Computer models from the USGS estimated that some 26 million people across the region may have felt Saturday’s earthquake, including some 1.1 million who may have experienced “severe” to “violent” shaking.

“Red alert for shaking-related fatalities and economic losses. High casualties and extensive damage are probable and the disaster is likely widespread,” the USGS estimated.

Less than 30 minutes later after the main earthquake, at 1:46 a.m. local time, the same area was hit by an aftershock measuring 6.0, according to JMA. A series of other aftershocks – including a few measured at around 6.0 – rattled the region in the hours afterwards.

Numerous buildings had collapsed or were badly damaged, while others were swept away by large landslides. Dozens are feared to remain trapped under rubble. By noon, officials confirmed that at least 19 people had been killed while more than 1,000 others were being treated for injuries.

There were no reports of problems at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, which is the only one operating in Japan as most nuclear reactors remain offline following the nuclear disaster in 2011.

As a result of Saturday’s earthquake, a tsunami advisory was issued for coastal areas of the Ariake Sea and Yatsushiro Sea, but the alert was lifted by 2:14 a.m. with no reports of tsunami activity. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center also said there is no threat of a Pacific-wide tsunami.

Saturday’s powerful earthquake comes just over a day after a strong 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck near Kumamoto, killing at least 9 people and injuring more than 1,000 others. Seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones said Saturday’s event means that Thursday’s earthquake was a foreshock.

Japan sits on the so-called ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’, an arc of fault lines circling the Pacific Basin which is prone to frequent and large earthquakes. Volcanic eruptions also occur frequently in the region.

In March 2011, an enormous 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of northeastern Japan, generating a devastating tsunami that wiped out entire communities and killed at least 15,893 people and left more than 2,500 others missing and presumed dead.

The 2011 earthquake also triggered the world’s worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster when a building housing the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant exploded and three of its nuclear reactors suffered a meltdown.

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