[UPDATE: Saturday, April 16 - 7.33am]
Three more earthquakes struck Japan's Kyushu island early this morning. The biggest yet, a 7.0, which struck around 2am, was at a depth of 10km. It was later followed by a 5.8 and 5.7.
The epicentre of the quake was just one kilometre away from the Kumamoto city centre.
A tsunam alert was raised and subsequently lifted. Big chasms have opened up in the ground and buildings which had been weakened in the original quakes crumbled. Rain is expected to complicate matters as grainy mountain soil could be brought down near the city of Kumamoto.
At least two people were reported dead, two others died of a heart attack, and hundreds could be buried in rubble in last night's bigger quake which was felt as far away as Tokyo.
This bigger quake, 30 times bigger than the biggest one on Thursday, means the two which happened on Thursday night are now considered "foreshocks". The two smaller recent ones and scores of others are now called aftershocks.
Some 20 000 rescue personel and troops are on their way to the area. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was due to visit the area, but has cancelled, saying efforts need to be concentrated on rescues.
At least nine people have been killed and more than 800 injured by a magnitude 6.5 earthquake and that toppled houses and buckled roads in southern Japan on Thursday night.
Strong aftershocks could continue to hit southwestern Japan in the coming days following the quake according to the Japan Meteorological Agency and seismology experts.
As of 1pm on Friday, 129 separate aftershocks had been recorded since the magnitude-6.5 quake hit Kumamoto Prefecture at 9:26 pm the night before, the third-highest number of aftershocks for quakes of a similar or stronger intensity since 1995, the agency said.
The quake registered a maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic scale in the town of Mashiki, the first time that level has been recorded on the island of Kyushu, the agency added.
With daybreak, the extent of the damage became apparent: collapsed buildings, streets warped by manholes pushed higher by the earth's movement, an expressway crunched and buckled.
The damage was severe in the hardest-hit town of Mashiki, about 15 kilometres from Kumamoto city. Entire buildings fallen to the ground, roofs that slid off, and windows and walls that crumbled, scattering glass and debris.
Huge boulder-like rocks tumbled from the walls of historic Kumamoto castle, which was closed to the public today.
Five women and four men were killed, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said. One man was in his 20s; the rest of the victims ranged from their 50s to one woman in her 90s. Eight of the nine victims were from Mashiki.
The government’s chief spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, said at least 860 people had been injured, 53 seriously. He said 1,600 soldiers had joined the relief and rescue efforts. About 44,000 people sought refuge, though some returned home in the morning. TV reports showed troops delivering blankets and adult diapers to those who took shelter.
The quake struck at 9:26pm on Thursday at a depth of 11 kilometres near Kumamoto city on the island of Kyushu, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. There was no tsunami risk.
The quake in Japan has been one of five strong ones in the last few days.
A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck Myanmar on Wednesday, causing tremors around the region, including in neighbouring Bangladesh where scores were reported injured in stampedes and buildings were damaged.
A 5.9-magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of southern Philippines early Thursday, seismologists said, with no damage or casualties immediately reported and no tsunami warning issued. Also on Thursday a 6.5 magnitude struck off Vanuatu and a 5.7 aftershock struck today.
On Sunday, at least six people were killed in Pakistan when 6.6 a quake rocked South Asia.