Two dead, several houses destroyed as 6.2-magnitude earthquake hits Japan

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At least two people are dead and 19 houses collapsed after an earthquake struck southern Japan late on Thursday, authorities said.

An unknown number of people were still trapped under collapsed buildings on Thursday night, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.2 quake struck near Ueki, Japan. Several smaller aftershocks occurred shortly afterward.

Several fires also broke out in the town of Mashiki, Japanese broadcaster NHK said.

The two deaths occurred in Mashiki, the Kumamoto Prefecture Disaster Management Office said. One person died in a collapsed house, and the other died in a fire.

The National Police Agency reported 12 injuries.

Gen Aoki, director of the Japan Meteorological Agency’s earthquake division, warned that more aftershocks could occur over the next week.

An estimated 750,000 people felt the tremors on Thursday, Myers said.

“The strongest shaking was right where the most people live” in the area, he said.

While the magnitude might not seem extreme, the shallow depth of the quake, just 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), probably means significant damage.

“When you have a shallow earthquake, you have the potential for more damage,” said John Bellini of the U.S. Geological Survey.

In addition to destroying 19 houses, the quake hurled items off store shelves and littered streets with rubble.

Japan, which sits along the Ring of Fire, has experienced several earthquakes.

Seismic events like the one on Thursday have plagued the country for decades.

The largest recorded quake to hit Japan came on March 11, 2011, when a magnitude-9.0 quake centered 231 miles (372 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo devastated the country.

That quake triggered a massive tsunami that swallowed entire communities in eastern Japan. It also caused catastrophic meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

In all, the disaster killed about 22,000 people, almost 20,000 from the initial quake and tsunami, and the rest from health conditions related to the disaster.

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