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  • Five years ago, a powerful 9 magnitude quake in Japan caused a tsunami with waves of up to 130 feet high.

    Five years ago, a powerful 9 magnitude quake in Japan caused a tsunami with waves of up to 130 feet high. | Photo: AFP

UPDATE: Rescue workers were working against the clock searching fro dozens of people still trapped after a powerful 7.3 magnitude earthquake. 

Army troops and other rescuers rushed Saturday to save scores of trapped residents after a pair of strong earthquakes in southwestern Japan killed at least 32 people, injured about 1,500 and forced the government to evacuate at least 170,000 people from over a dozen communities. Also, about 400,000 were without water and 200,000 without electricity.

The shallow 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit in the early hours, sending people fleeing from their beds and on to dark streets, and follows a 6.4 magnitude quake on Thursday which killed 10 people in the area.

Television footage showed fires, power outages, collapsed bridges and gaping holes in the earth. Residents near a dam were told to leave because of fears it might crumble, broadcaster NHK said

There were also concerns for those trapped under rubble overnight with heavy rain forecast and the temperature expected to drop to 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit).

About 190 of those injured were in serious condition, the government said, and more than 170,000 had been evacuated from their homes. More than 200 homes and other buildings were either destroyed or damaged.

Many frightened people wrapped in blankets sat outside their homes while others camped out in rice fields in rural areas surrounding the main towns. About 422,000 households were without water, and about 200,000 without electricity, the government said. Troops were setting up tents for evacuees and water trucks were being sent to the area.

The speed of rescue efforts was critical given that rain could further damage weakened buildings and cause landslides.

"Nothing is more important than human life and it's a race against time," Japanese Prime Minister Shizo Abe said.

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