At least nine people have been killed, nearly 1000 injured and buildings have been destroyed in a 6.0 earthquake and aftershocks in southern Japan - although there are no reports of problems with nuclear plants.
Strong aftershocks continued to shake the area around the city of Kumamoto on Friday, the morning after it was hit by the initial 6.0 magnitude quake overnight.
While the magnitude was much lower than that of the 11 March, 2011 quake that touched off a massive tsunami and nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima, the intensity was similar because the quake struck on land and at a much shallower depth.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority said there were no irregularities at three nuclear plants on the southern major island of Kyushu and nearby Shikoku.
More than 44,000 people evacuated to schools and community centres, some spending the night outside after the first quake hit around 9:30 pm (Japan time). Roads cracked, houses crumbled, and tiles fell from the roof of Kumamoto Castle in the centre of the city.
"We managed to huddle into a space, that's why we were saved," one man told NHK national television. "Our house was destroyed, but we're all safe, so that's what counts."
More than 3000 troops, police and firemen were dispatched to the area from around Japan, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said more would be sent if needed.
"We will do everything in our power to ensure the safety of local residents," Mr Abe told a parliamentary committee.
Most of the dead came from Mashiko, a town of around 34,000 people near the epicentre of the quake, where firefighters battled a blaze late on Thursday. Daylight showed splintered houses under tiled roofs and an apartment building whose ground floor was pulverized.
"I want to go home, but we couldn't do anything there," one boy at an evacuation centre told TBS television as he bounced a baby in his arms.
Though the intensity of the quake was on par with the 2011 quake that left nearly 20,000 dead, the absence of a tsunami and Japan's strict building codes helped keep the death toll down.
Service on the Shinkansen superfast train in Kyushu was halted after one train derailed, and highways were closed after some sections collapsed.
About 12,300 households were still without electricity, according to Kyushu Electric Power Co Inc.
Honda Motor Co suspended output at its motorcycle factory near Kumamoto following the quake, a company spokesman said. Sony Corp, Mitsubishi Electric Corp and tire maker Bridgestone Corp also suspended operations at factories in the area.
At least one person was killed after being crushed by a collapsing building, local media reported. More than 400 people were taken to hospital. At least two of the deaths occurred in the town of Mashiki, where the shaking was most severe. The town lies 15km east of Kumamoto.
The Kyodo news agency said more than 100 aftershocks had been recorded since the quake.
- Reuters / BBC