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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Deadly Earthquake Hits Southern Japan

Apr. 15, 2016

A powerful earthquake struck the southwestern Japanese prefecture of Kumamoto on Thursday night.

Tens of thousands of people fled their homes. At least 9 people died, more than 1,000 others were injured, and aftershocks shook the region.

An NHK remote camera captured the moment the magnitude 6.5 quake hit Kumamoto City. The violent shaking sent the Japanese seismic scale to its highest level of 7 in a neighboring town.

In the streets of Kumamoto city, rubble was scattered across the sidewalk. Food and packaging at one supermarket were flung to the floor.

"The quake just came out of the blue. I've never experienced such a strong jolt. I thought something had exploded," one local resident said.

"It was an incredible shock. I could feel my body just being thrown back and forth," said another.

The town of Mashiki, just outside Kumamoto city, bore the worst of the jolt. People fled their homes to gather outside the town hall.

City officials transferred emergency operations to an evacuation facility. Some voiced fears about whether the electricity supply would stay stable. In homes and offices, shelves collapsed, as falling objects covered the floors.

Aftershocks rocked the area -- some of them nearly as powerful as the first quake. Many buildings collapsed or were badly damaged.

The officially designated cultural asset of Kumamoto Castle was also damaged.

Regular life in the prefecture is on hold.

Shinkansen bullet train services have been suspended. The quake derailed one train, but no passengers were on board and no one was hurt.

Highways in many areas cracked or crumbled. Some sections were closed. Flights were also disrupted at Kumamoto Airport.

The Sendai nuclear plant is located in neighboring Kagoshima prefecture. It is currently Japan's only online nuclear facility. Officials at the plant said they have detected no irregularities. They said the 2 reactors were operating normally.

Officials from Japan's Meteorological Agency said they were trying to figure out the mechanics behind the earthquake. An agency spokesperson said that caution would be necessary for some time to come.

"There's a high possibility of more strong aftershocks within the next 3 days," Tetsuo Hashimoto said.

Officials with the agency also said they believed Thursday's quake occurred near a fault that caused major earthquakes several times, including a magnitude 6.3 quake in 1889.

Four major tectonic plates collide beneath the Japanese archipelago. Because of that, the country is riddled with faults.

Thursday's earthquake occurred around the intersection of 2 active faults that run through the region. Experts said that the fault lines slipped sideways, causing the quake.

Shinji Toda has been researching Japan's active faults.

"More detailed analysis is needed, but it could be the case that the strain was temporarily concentrated in this active fault zone, making it more likely that another earthquake could happen," said Toda, who is a professor at Tohoku University.

The area was facing another problem -- heavy rain and strong winds were forecast for the weekend.

The agency said the quake and aftershocks may have loosened the ground, and any stormy weather could trigger landslides or cause further damage to weakened buildings.