Japan earthquakes: Survivor describes dramatic escape from seventh floor of damaged building

'We can’t return home as the damage can’t be repaired. My wife, son and his grandfather are living in the car at the moment, while I’m at work helping other evacuees'

Earthquake - Mashiki, Kumamoto prefecture, southern Japan, April 15, 2016
Earthquake - Mashiki, Kumamoto prefecture, southern Japan, April 15, 2016

A 53-year-old man has told how he smashed through a wall to rescue a neighbour after fleeing from the top floor of a seven-story building amid the devastating Kyushu earthquake.

Masami Ueda, of Kumamoto City, told The Independent he and his family were forced to evacuate in the middle of the night after the 7.3 magnitude quake shook them awake and cracked the apartment block's walls from top to bottom.

Two strong earthquakes that hit southern Japan on Friday and the early hours of Saturday have killed at least 29, injured more than 1,500 and left many more homeless, with further casualties feared as people may be trapped under rubble.

“The second earthquake was the biggest I’ve ever felt in my life. The first earthquake was not too bad, some dishes fell down and broke, but I wasn’t expecting the second, as they are so rare in Kyushu,” he said.

Mr Ueda and his family were woken up by the tremors and quickly fled their apartment, taking refuge in a children’s playground. Mr Ueda said he then went back to help his neighbours escape.

“The people in the second floor apartment couldn’t open the door, so we rescued them by breaking down one of fire walls between the apartments,” he said.

“Everyone is now safe. But we can’t return home as the damage can’t be repaired. My wife, son and his grandfather are living in the car at the moment, while I’m at work helping other evacuees.

Police officers conduct a search operation near the damaged houses in Minamiaso, Kumamoto prefecture

“I’m very afraid that there will be a another earthquake. On TV, some professors have said that there will be a third one."

Mr Ueda, 53, works at the Kumamoto City International Centre, where around 100 local residents have taken refuge. A number of large supermarkets are closed and there have been reports of panic buying at convenience stores.

Mr Ueda said he thought Kumamoto City should have been better prepared to help people in emergency situations.

As earthquakes are rarer in southern Japan than in other regions, there are more older buildings which have not been built to withstand earthquakes, he said. His family’s apartment building was 30 years old.

Other Kumamoto residents posted about their situation on social media in the aftermath of the two quakes.

“Food and drinking water for staff has run out at Azuma Hospital in Kumamoto City,” wrote one user on Twitter. “We have taken in around 30 patients, and have been working all night without eating or drinking.”

Another call for help, including water, came from a Twitter user who said they were in a high school, which was being used as an unofficial shelter. They posted a picture of a room crowded with evacuees.

Police received reports of 97 cases of people trapped or buried under collapsed buildings, while 10 people were caught in landslides, Japanese news agency Kyodo News reported.

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