Frantic search: Rescue workers sift through debris looking for survivors from a house damaged by a landslide caused by an earthquake in Atsuma town, Hokkaido, in Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo on Thursday.
Frantic search: Rescue workers sift through debris looking for survivors from a house damaged by a landslide caused by an earthquake in Atsuma town, Hokkaido, in Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo on Thursday.

Tokyo — Rescuers scrabbled through mud for survivors on Thursday after a powerful earthquake sent hillsides crashing onto homes in Japan, killing at least nine people and leaving dozens missing.

As many as 30 are feared buried beneath the rubble of multiple, large-scale landslides that struck the sparsely populated countryside on the northern island of Hokkaido after a 6.6-magnitude earthquake.

Aerial footage showed wrecked farm buildings at the bottom of a hill as rescue helicopters whirred overhead in a region already affected by the edge of a strong typhoon that ravaged parts of Japan earlier in the week.

The quake left almost 3-million people without power after damage to a major thermal plant supplying the region, with industry minister Hiroshige Seko saying it could take "at least a week" to restore supply.

Long lines formed outside petrol stations and supermarkets as residents dug in and authorities warned that further quakes could be on the way.

Kazuo Kibayashi, an official in the hard-hit town of Abira, told AFP: "There was a sudden, extreme jolt. I felt it went sideways, not up and down, for about two to three minutes.

"It stopped before shaking started again. I felt it come in two waves. I am 51, and I have never experienced anything like this. I thought my house was going to collapse. Everything inside my house was all jumbled up. I didn’t have time to even start cleaning," he said.

Public broadcaster NHK reported that nine people had died, many of them in the village of Atsuma, where the landslide engulfed their homes. Thirty-one people were still missing, with about 300 sustaining minor injuries.

Moments after the initial quake, which struck 62km southeast of the regional capital Sapporo, an aftershock measuring 5.3 rocked the area, with dozens more tremors felt throughout the day.

"We will do our best to save lives," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after an emergency cabinet meeting.

Government spokesperson Yoshihide Suga said: "I urge people in areas shaken by strong quakes to stay calm, pay attention to evacuation information … and help each other.

"It’s going to rain [in Hokkaido]. Please be very careful of further landslides," she said.

About 20,000 rescue workers, including police and members of the Self-Defence Forces, were responding to the disaster, Suga said.

Another 20,000 troops are expected to join the effort.

AFP

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