ShelterBox is on alert following a deadly earthquake that struck southern Japan last evening. At least nine people have died and more than 250 are injured after the quake and aftershocks toppled buildings and cut power supplies.

The race is on to find people who could be trapped under collapsed buildings in the Japanese town of Mashiki, near Kumamoto city on the southern island of Kyushu. At 4:26 EST time yesterday a magnitude 6.4 quake struck at a depth of six miles, and was followed by aftershocks measuring 5.7 about 40 minutes later and 6.4 just after midnight local time.

Japan’s seismology office recorded the shaking in some places to be as intense as the huge magnitude 9 earthquake that hit the country in 2011, triggering a tsunami that left more than 18,000 people dead or missing, and causing meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Last evening thousands fled their homes and many people spent the night in the open. Troops have now been deployed, but rescue operations are being hampered by further aftershocks. No tsunami warning was issued, and nuclear reactors on the island are reported not to have been affected.

ShelterBox provided a major response to the 2011 quake, but no call has gone out yet from the Japan Government for international assistance this time.

ShelterBox Operations Team Lead James Luxton says,

We have been keeping a close eye on the unfolding situation, and will respond with aid if a request is made. But Japan is very resilient in this type of natural event, and has sophisticated response measures in place for such emergencies.

‘This is the latest in a recent series of major seismic events across Asia and the Pacific. There was a 6.9 quake in Myanmar on Wednesday, another measuring 5.9 near the Pacific islands of Vanuatu yesterday, and a very deep 6.6 in Afghanistan earlier in the week. We currently have teams and aid in place in Fiji responding to two cyclones, and could call on pre-positioned stock at various sites across SE Asia and Australia if a need for emergency shelter was identified.’

In Mashiki last night’s quake and aftershocks left about 16,000 homes without power, and water supplies were cut off. The quake took place at a time when most people were at home. Japan is regularly struck by earthquakes, but the country has sophisticated early warning mechanisms, and strict building codes to minimize damage.