Japan earthquake
People wrapped in blankets sit on the road as they are evacuated from a hotel after an earthquake in Kumamoto, southern Japan Reuters

A strong earthquake hit southern Japan causing numerous houses to collapse and injuring dozens of people. The magnitude of 6.4 tremor struck at 9.26pm local time near the city of Kumamoto city on Kyushu island.

"There was a ka-boom and the whole house shook violently sideways," Takahiko Morita, a resident of the nerby town of Mashiki, told Japanese broadcaster NHK. "Furniture and bookshelves fell down, and books were all over the floor."

Authorities in Kumamoto said they were responding to numerous reports of collapsed houses, warning that there might be people trapped under the debris. The Kumamoto Red Cross Hospital said it has treated at least 45 people, including five suffering from serious injuries.

The epicentre was located only 120km northeast of the Sendai nuclear plant, but Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said all nearby atomic facilities appeared unaffected. No tsunami alert was issued.

Images from the affected areas showed people evacuating buildings and pouring out into the streets that were in some parts covered by rubble of broken buildings. Other photos from showed damage caused inside flats, stores and offices with overturned shelves and smashed bottles, dishes and glasses.

"Papers, files, flower vases and everything fell on the floor," Kasumi Nakamura, from the village of Nishihara, he told NHK.