TOKYO — A powerful earthquake struck the southwestern Japanese island of Kyushu on Thursday, killing at least three people, damaging buildings and knocking out power, the Japanese news media reported.
Television images showed firefighters battling blazes in the most seriously affected area, in the town of Mashiki in rural Kumamoto Prefecture. The roofs of some homes appeared to be partly collapsed, with tiles spilling onto the narrow streets.
The local authorities in Kumamoto said they had received a number of reports of people trapped under collapsed buildings, according to NHK, the national broadcast network.
Hospitals in Kumamoto city, the prefecture’s capital, reported that three people had been killed, according to NHK. One hospital said it was treating 88 people for injuries, seven of them serious.
The earthquake knocked an out-of-service Shinkansen bullet train off its rails, JR Kyushu Railway reported. There were no passengers on the train at the time and no one was injured, the railway said.
The Japan Meteorological Agency reported the quake’s preliminary magnitude at 6.4, strong but not at the top of the range for seismically unstable Japan. The earthquake that struck northeastern Japan in 2011, unleashing a powerful tsunami, measured 9.0.
But the quake on Thursday was centered on land, unlike the offshore quake five years ago, and its origin point was a relatively shallow six miles below the surface. As a result, there was no tsunami, but the shaking at the epicenter was especially strong.
In Mashiki, groups of people gathered in parking lots, parks and other open spaces after fleeing their homes, as powerful aftershocks continued to rattle the region. Officials warned residents not to approach damaged buildings for fear that they could collapse.
A measure of surface vibration used by the meteorological agency was reported at the top of a seven-step scale in Mashiki — the same as the 2011 quake. The quake struck at 9:26 p.m., and power failures left rescue workers searching in the dark for possible victims.
“We don’t yet know the extent of the damage, but we are putting all our efforts into gathering information,” said Yoshihide Suga, the government’s chief cabinet secretary.
Kyushu is home to the only Japanese nuclear power plant currently in operation, after a mass shutdown of the atomic-power industry following the 2011 quake, which caused meltdowns at a plant in Fukushima.
Kyushu Electric Power Company said there were no problems at the two reactors that are online at the facility, the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant, which is about 75 miles southwest of Mashiki.