Japan's Catholic bishops are coordinating efforts to help the thousands of people affected by the two earthquakes which struck the city of Kumamoto on the southwestern island of Kyushu last week.

A 7.3 magnitude quake hit Kumamoto, nearly 70 miles south of Fukuoka, on April 16, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on April 14. At leat 41 persons were killed, and thousands wounded. Some 180,000 have been rendered homeless, according to the BBC.

“We thought the damage was contained in the small area of Mashiki town,” Bishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi of Niigata told CNA April 16, “but this morning's quake caused damage in a much wider area, including the neighboring Ohita prefecture.”

Bishop Kikuchi is head of Caritas Japan, the national bishops' social action arm, which is assisting in rescue and relief efforts on Kyushu. He conveyed the prayers and solidarity of all the Japanese bishops and stated their appreciation for the prayers and aid sent from around the world.

Bishop Dominic Ry?ji Miyahara of Fukuoka on Saturday called an emergency meeting of diocesan officials to discuss how to mobilize relief efforts for the earthquake's victims.

He has appealed for donations ot the diocese for relief and rehabilitation needs, and has sent the director of the diocesan branch of Caritas to assess the situation. One Catholic school was damaged in the quake, but no other serious damage has been reported at other Catholic institutions.

It is “very hard for the victim[s] to lose their homes where mornings and nights are still chilly,” Bishop Miyahara said in an appeal for support.

“I'm praying for those who suffer great damage from this earthquake and we, [the] Diocese of Fukuoka are with you in your pains and sorrows. We ask your prayers for the victim[s] and people in these areas for them to have comfort and enough strength to go through this situation and for them to have quick recovery from this damage.”

Bishop Kikuchi explained to CNA that the affected area is “largely mountainous, and thus difficult for volunteers to access.” Landslides have cut off some remote villages, and roads, bridges, and tunnels have all been damaged.

Some communications are cut off, and electricity and water supplies have been affected. Aftershocks were continuing through at least Sunday.

Bishop Kikuchi said that it is rare for such a powerful earthquake to hit Japan, particularly Kyushu. Quakes of a similar magnitude were recorded in 1995 in Kobe, in 2004 in Niigata, and in 2011 in Tohoku.

As messages and prayers flooded social media for the earthquake victims, Catholics in Thailand also expressed their prayers.  

Fr. Joseph Thammarat Ruanngam, chancellor of the Diocese of Chanthaburi, told CNA that his community “expresses its heartfelt condolences following the devastating earthquake and stands united in prayer with the affected people of Japan.”