Predicted heavy rains for the island of Kyushu could trigger landslides in Kumamoto and Oita Prefectures, which have been hit by several powerful earthquakes since Thursday.

The first large temblor, which had a magnitude of 6.5 and was centered in the small Kumamoto Prefecture town of Mashiki, struck on the evening of Thursday, April 14. Aftershocks continued through the night and into the next day. Early on Saturday morning, an even stronger earthquake – this one with a magnitude of 7.3, and centered in Kumamoto City – hit early on Saturday morning. Strong quakes continued throughout the day, including two in the city of Beppu in Oita Prefecture.

The damage and loss of life has been extensive. According to NHK TV reports, 41 people have been killed since the first quake struck on Thursday, April 14. More than 2,000 have been injured, and close to 70,000 in Kumamoto have evacuated their homes. Popular tourist destination Kumamoto Castle has been badly damaged; a section of the floor and the stone wall crumbled on Saturday morning. Several buildings at the historic Aso Shrine, in the Kumamoto city of Aso, have collapsed. Landslides in two locations in the city of Minami Aso swept away more than a dozen houses and killed at least four people. Buildings that housed Tokai University students in Kumamoto collapsed, killing at least three. Hundreds of structures in the region have been damaged or destroyed, overpasses have fallen down, and many roads and highways remain impassable. Electricity supply is still disrupted.

As of Saturday evening, there have been more than 135 quakes of 3.5 magnitude or higher recorded since the initial temblor, and more than 200 in total. The animation below, which is based on earthquake maps from the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), displays earthquake magnitudes according to the JMA earthquake scale, which ranks earthquakes on a 1-to-7 scale. In its epicenter, the Mashiki quake on Thursday night was a 7 – the first of this strength since the triple disaster on March 11, 2011.

A storm bringing heavy winds and rain – as much as 150 millimeters – is passing through Kyushu, raising fears of landslides in areas where the quakes have already loosened ground.

The JSDF (Japanese Self-Defense Forces) have been dispatched throughout the region to provide support and supplies, and divisions are continuing to come in from around the country, along with non-military aid. According to NHK World, oil wholesalers have agreed to speed up supplies of gas and electricity to the region, and Kyushu Electric Power Company are sending power supply vehicles to evacuation centers, hospitals, and care facilities. Schools and other public buildings have been set up as water distribution points. Free Wifi service is being offered throughout the region from Softbank, AU, and Docomo.

Donations are already being accepted at convenience stores around Tokyo, and if you can understand Japanese, the following article has some suggestions for ways to donate: Peace Boat, whose projects we’ve covered in the past, is sending a team down to the region and is accepting donations to assist their efforts. Second Harvest is sending trucks with food and down to the region now, and are also accepting donations. We’ll have further updates about English-language options for making donations and will add informaton when further details come in.

–Alec Jordan

Image: NHK (screengrab)