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Kumamoto prefectural officials, residents confounded by massive 'principal' quake

Evacuees who spent the night curled up in blankets in front of the town hall building in Mashiki, Kumamoto Prefecture, are pictured here at 6:15 a.m. on April 16, 2016. (Mainichi)

KUMAMOTO -- The massive quake that struck this area on the night of April 14 and what had been considered its aftershocks were in fact foreshocks of the even larger quake that hit around 1:25 a.m. on April 16, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JTA) has announced.

As news of more damage reached disaster headquarters on the 10th floor of the Kumamoto Prefectural Government building, staffers were heard yelling, "Calm down. Let's just calm down."

The city of Kumamoto was hit by shaking in the wee hours of April 16 that was clearly much stronger than that of the night before. A seven-story reinforced concrete condominium in Kumamoto's Nishi Ward collapsed, completely crushing the parking lot on the ground floor. The 40-year-old proprietor of a dining establishment on the first floor of the building had been cleaning up his restaurant when the temblor hit, and he rushed out of the building.

"Because there'd been so many aftershocks, I may have got used to them," he said. "I could've been crushed."

Soon after the quake, local residents evacuated to nearby parks or their cars, where they spent the night. Residents began to gather at Ryokuchi Park in Kumamoto's Chuo Ward in the predawn hours, huddling together. Local resident Hiromi Sato, 67, said, "I've hardly slept since yesterday. I'm just praying that the quakes stop." A 26-year-old woman covered in a blanket from head to toe, said, "I'm simply terrified. Today's quake was much stronger than the last one. I wonder if Kumamoto will be OK."

Residents also gathered at Kumamoto Municipal Sunatori Elementary School in the city's Chuo Ward, which has been set up as an evacuation center. The gymnasium is not large enough to accommodate all the evacuees, so parts of the rest of the school have also been opened up to residents

"How long is this going to last? I can't take it!" a woman in her 20s who had evacuated to the school screamed in the schoolyard. As she crumpled to the ground, other evacuees tried to comfort her.

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