Earthquakes strike Japan and Ecuador

Police officers conduct a search operation at an earthquake-damaged house in Mashiki, Kumamoto prefecture, Japan Sunday, April 17. After two nights of earthquakes, flattened houses and triggered major landslides in southern Japan, 91,000 people had evacuated from their homes, according to a Kumamoto prefectural official.

Ryosuke Ozawa/Kyodo News via AP

Police officers conduct a search operation at an earthquake-damaged house in Mashiki, Kumamoto prefecture, Japan Sunday, April 17. After two nights of earthquakes, flattened houses and triggered major landslides in southern Japan, 91,000 people had evacuated from their homes, according to a Kumamoto prefectural official.

OZU, Japan (AP) — The wooden home barely withstood the first earthquake. An even stronger one the next night dealt what might have been the final blow — if not to the house, then to the Tanaka family's peace of mind.

The Tanakas joined about 50 other residents of the southern Japanese town of Ozu who were planning to sleep in their cars at a public park after two nights of increasingly terrifying earthquakes that have killed 41 people and injured about 1,500, flattened houses and triggered major landslides.

"I don't think we can go back there. Our life is in limbo," said 62-year-old Yoshiaki Tanaka, as other evacuees served rice balls for dinner. He, his wife and his 85-year-old mother fled their home after a magnitude-7.3 earthquake struck Saturday at 1:25 a.m., just 28 hours after a magnitude-6.5 quake hit the same area.

Search efforts resumed Sunday morning for about half-a-dozen missing people in debris-strewn communities in a mountainous area near Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the Defense Ministry is coordinating with the U.S. military in Japan to add U.S. aircraft to the search and recovery effort.

Landslides from Saturday's earthquake have blocked roads and destroyed bridges, making it difficult to access the area east of Kumamoto, a city of 740,000 on the southwestern island of Kyushu.

Overnight rainfall did not appear to cause any more landslides, as had been feared, and the skies had cleared by morning.

About 80,000 homes in Kumamoto prefecture still didn't have electricity Sunday, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said. Japanese media reported that an estimated 400,000 households were without running water.

Kumamoto prefectural official Riho Tajima said that more than 200 houses and other buildings had been either destroyed or damaged, and that 91,000 people had evacuated from their homes.

Hundreds of people lined up for rations at distribution points before nightfall, bracing for the rain and strong winds that were expected. Local stores quickly ran out of stock and shuttered their doors, and people said they were worried about running out of food.

Police in Kumamoto prefecture said that at least 32 people had died from Saturday morning's earthquake. Nine died in the quake on Thursday night.

More than half the deaths were in Mashiki, a town on the eastern border of Kumamoto city that was hit hardest by the first quake.

Japan's Kyodo news agency reported that four people were missing in Minamiaso, a more rural area farther east of Kumamoto where the landslides were triggered by the second quake.

One landslide tore open a mountainside in Minamiaso from the top to a highway below. Another gnawed at a highway, above a smashed house that had fallen down a ravine. In another part of the village, houses were hanging precariously at the edge of a huge hole cut open in the earth.

About 1,500 people were injured in the two earthquakes, said Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese government's top spokesman. He said the number of troops in the area was being raised to 20,000, while additional police and firefighters were also on the way.

In Mashiki, where people were trapped beneath the rubble for hours, an unconscious 93-year-old woman, Yumiko Yamauchi, was dragged out from the debris of her home Saturday and taken by ambulance to a hospital. Her son-in-law Tatsuhiko Sakata said she had refused to move to shelter with him after the first quake Thursday.

"When I came to see her last night, I was asking her: 'Mother? I'm here! Do you remember me? Do you remember my face?' She replied with a huge smile filled with joy. A kind of smile that I would never forget. And that was the last I saw of her," Sakata said.

Japanese TV showed a collapsed student dormitory at Aso city's Tokai University that was originally two floors, but now looked like a single-story building. A witness said he heard a cry for help from the rubble. Two students were reported to have died there.

The area has been rocked by aftershocks. The Japan Meteorological Agency said the magnitude-7.3 quake early Saturday may have been the main one, with the one from Thursday night a precursor.

QUITO, Ecuador

A powerful, 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook Ecuador's central coast on Saturday, killing at least 41 people and spreading panic hundreds of kilometers (miles) away as it collapsed homes and buckled a major overpass.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the shallow quake, the strongest since 1979 to hit Ecuador, was centered 27 kilometers (16 miles) south-southeast of Muisne, a sparsely populated area of fishing ports that's popular with tourists.

Vice President Jorge Glas said in a televised address that there were initial reports of 41 dead in the cities of Manta, Portoviejo and Guayaquil — all several hundred kilometers (miles) from where the quake struck shortly after nightfall. He said the death toll is likely to rise as reports from the worst-hit areas come in.

"We're trying to do the most we can but there's almost nothing we can do," said Gabriel Alcivar, mayor of Pedernales, a town of 40,000 near the epicenter. He pleaded for rescuers as dozens of buildings in the town were flattened, people trapped and looting broke out amid the chaos. "This wasn't just a house that collapsed, it was an entire town."

Among those killed was the driver of a car crushed by an overpass that buckled in Guayaquil, the country's most populous city.

On social media residents shared photos of homes collapsed, the roof of a shopping center coming apart and supermarket shelves shaking violently. In Manta, the airport was closed after the control tower collapsed, injuring an air force official. Hydroelectric dams and oil pipelines in the OPEC-member nation were shut down as a precautionary measure.

President Rafael Correa, who is in Rome after attending a Vatican conference Friday, called on Ecuadoreans to stay strong while authorities monitor events.

He said on Twitter he had signed a decree declaring a national emergency but that the earliest he could get back to Ecuador is Sunday afternoon. He said that there were "dozens of dead" from the earthquake.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said hazardous tsunami waves are possible for some coasts. While the government hadn't issued a tsunami alert, Glas urged residents along the coast to move to higher ground and towns near the epicenter were also being evacuated as a precautionary measure. An emergency had been declared in six of Ecuador's 24 provinces, while sporting events and concerts were cancelled until further notice nationwide.

"It's very important that Ecuadoreans remain calm during this emergency," Glas said from Ecuador's national crisis room.

The quake was felt across the border in Colombia, where it shook residents in Cali and Popayan, and Peru briefly issued a tsunami warning.

In the capital Quito hundreds of kilometers away from the epicenter, the quake was felt for about 40 seconds and people fled to the streets in fear. The quake knocked out electricity in several neighborhoods and six homes collapsed but the situation under control and power being restored, Quito's Mayor Mauricio Rodas said.

"I'm in a state of panic," said Zoila Villena, one of many Quito residents who congregated in the streets. "My building moved a lot and things fell to the floor. Lots of neighbors were screaming and kids crying."

The USGS originally put the quake at a magnitude of 7.4 then raised it to 7.8. It had a depth of 19 kilometers. At least 36 aftershocks followed, one as strong as 6 on the Richter scale, and authorities urged residents to brace for even stronger ones in the coming hours and days.

Guayaquil's international airport was also closed because of a lack of communications.

The quake comes on the heels of two deadly earthquakes across the Pacific, in the southernmost of Japan's four main islands. A magnitude-6.5 earthquake struck Thursday near Kumamoto, followed by a magnitude-7.3 earthquake just 28 hours later. The quakes have killed 41 people and injured about 1,500, flattened houses and triggered major landslides.