ASO, Japan – Thousands of rescue workers searched a debris-strewn village in southern Japan for about a half-dozen missing people Sunday, as the Japanese government said U.S. military aircraft would join the relief mission for communities devastated by two powerful earthquakes that killed 41 people.
The search is concentrated in Minamiaso, which means South Aso, a village in a mountainous area southwest of 5,223-foot Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan.
Landslides from the second earthquake early Saturday morning have blocked roads and destroyed bridges, making it difficult to access the area east of Kumamoto, a city of 740,000 on the southwestern island of Kyushu.
In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the Defense Ministry is working with the U.S. military to start aid flights.
"We are extremely grateful, and we would like to coordinate quickly and have the emergency relief be transported in as soon as possible," he said.
Overnight rainfall did not appear to cause any more landslides, as had been feared, and the skies had cleared by morning.
About 80,000 homes in Kumamoto prefecture still didn't have electricity Sunday, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said. Japanese media reported earlier that an estimated 400,000 households were without running water.
More than 1,000 buildings were damaged in the two earthquakes, including at least 90 completely destroyed.
Authorities have confirmed 32 deaths from Saturday's magnitude-7.3 earthquake, and nine from a magnitude-6.5 quake in the same area Thursday night. About 1,500 people were injured in the quakes, said Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese government's top spokesman.
The hardest-hit town appears to be Mashiki, on the eastern border of Kumamoto city, where 20 people died.
The second earthquake triggered major landslides in Minamiaso. One tore open a mountainside from the top to a highway below. Another gnawed at a highway, above a smashed house that had fallen down a ravine. In another part of the village, houses were hanging precariously at the edge of a huge hole cut open in the earth.
The area has been rocked by aftershocks. The Japan Meteorological Agency said that the Saturday quake may have been the main one, with the first one a precursor.
"It is unusual but not unprecedented for a larger and more damaging earthquake to follow what was taken to be the main event," said David Rothery, professor of planetary geosciences at The Open University in Britain.
Rothery noted that in March 2011, a magnitude-7.2 earthquake in northern Japan was followed two days later by the magnitude-9.0 quake that caused a devastating tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people.