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Heavy rain hampers Japan quake rescue

Nearly a quarter of a million people have been ordered to evacuate their homes following two earthquakes on the southwestern Japanese island of Kyushu. Rough weather conditions are hampering rescue operations.

Tens of thousands of people forced from their homes by back-to-back earthquakes in southern Japan spent a wet and windy night in temporary shelters on Saturday night.

A magnitude 7.3 earthquake shook Kumamoto province on the southwestern island of Kyushu Saturday at 1:25 a.m. local time. It struck slightly more than 24 hours after a magnitude-6.5 tremor in the same area on Thursday.

The aerial view shows a collapsed road after an earthquake in Minami-Aso, Kumamoto prefecture

Mudslides wiped out roads, slowing down rescue operations

At least 41 people were killed and about 1,500 injured in the two quakes, which collapsed houses, triggered mudslides and destroyed bridges and roads.

The government said more than 400,000 houses remained without running water and another 100,000 homes were without electricity.

Broadcaster NHK said about 240,000 had received orders to evacuate, including some people living near a dam, which it is feared may collapse.

Heavy rains threatened to cause further mudslides and slow rescue operations on Sunday.

Rescue workers conduct a search and rescue operation to a collapsed house at a landslide site caused by earthquakes in Minamiaso town Copyright: Reuters/Kyodo

Rescue crews searched collapsed buildings in Minamiaso town

'Race against time'

"The wind is expected to pick up and rain will likely get heavier," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a government meeting. "Rescue operations at night will be extremely difficult ...

It's a race against time."

More than 20,000 army troops and rescuers have been deployed to set up tents and reach stranded residents. More police, firefighters and medics were also set to arrive.

The picture shows debris on the floor inside the departure hall at Kumamoto Airport after an earthquake in Mashiki Copyright: Getty Images/AFP/STR

The Kumamoto Airport remains closed

Earlier Saturday, rescuers saved 10 students stuck in a collapsed university apartment building in the town of Minami. Dozens of people are believed to still be tramped under rubble.

Authorities said the island's

nuclear power plants were undamaged

.

In March 2011, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in northern Japan was followed two days later by a magnitude 9.0 quake that caused a devastating tsunami, which in turn triggered nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima. Nearly 20,000 people were killed in the disaster.

cw/cmk (AP, Reuters)

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