Powerful Earthquake Rocks Japan; 1 Dead, 170 Injured

By Hans Greimel | March 26, 2007

A powerful earthquake struck Japan on Sunday, killing at least one person and injuring 170 others as it damaged buildings and triggered a small tsunami along the coast, officials said.

The magnitude-6.9 quake struck at 9:42 a.m. (0042 GMT) off the north coast of Ishikawa prefecture (state), Japan’s Meteorological Agency said. The agency issued a tsunami warning urging people near the sea to move to higher land.

A small tsunami measuring 10 centimeters (6 inches) hit the shore 36 minutes later, the agency said. The warning was lifted after about an hour.

Lower intensity temblors continued to strike the region throughout the afternoon. A stronger temblor with a preliminary magnitude of 5.3 hit at 6:14 p.m. (0914 GMT), but there was no tsunami danger, the agency said. Public broadcaster NHK said the quake appeared to be an aftershock.

The morning quake toppled buildings, triggered landslides, cut power, interfered with phone service, broke water mains and snarled public transportation. At least one person was killed and 170 others were hurt along the country’s Sea of Japan coast, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

Fear of aftershocks and more landslides caused by the loosening of soil waterlogged by overnight rains continued to plague the quake zone.

Television footage of the quake showed buildings shaking violently for about 30 seconds. Other shots showed collapsed buildings and shops with shattered windows, streets cluttered with roof tiles and roads with cracked pavement.

At least 154 people were injured in Ishikawa, 12 severely, the FDMA said. Another 16 people were injured in neighboring prefectures, one severely, it said.

Many of the injured people were knocked down by the shaking or hurt by falling objects and broken glass, media reports said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki confirmed the death of a 52-year-old woman. NHK said she was crushed by a falling stone lantern. “We are doing our best to rescue the victims,” he said. “We are also doing our best to assess the extent of the damage.”

Kyodo News agency reported about 30 soldiers had arrived to help with disaster relief, and military aircraft were examining the damage. Some 375 firefighters from seven other prefectures were also dispatched to help, the FDMA said.

“We felt violent shaking. My colleagues say the insides of their houses are a mess, with everything smashed on the floor,” Wataru Matsumoto, deputy mayor of the town of Anamizu near the epicenter, told NHK.

The quake also knocked down at least 39 homes in Ishikawa, and damaged another 143, the FDMA said. Most of the injuries and damage were concentrated in the city of Wajima, it added.

Takeshi Hachimine, seismology and tsunami section chief at the Meteorological Agency, said the affected area was not considered earthquake-prone. The last major quake to cause casualties there was in 1933, when three people died.

He warned of likely aftershocks. “After the powerful earthquake, aftershocks will continue,” Hachimine said. “All residents, especially those who are near the hardest-hit areas, are advised to use extra caution. Aftershocks could further damage what’s already fragile.”

Western Japan Railway Co. said it had restored most of its train service around the region by late afternoon. All Nippon Airways said it canceled flights to the affected region after the local airport was closed.

Nuclear power plants owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Kansai Electric Power Co. were operating normally in Niigata and Fukui prefectures, Kyodo News agency said.
Hokuriku Electric Power Co. said electrical power had been restored to nearly all households in the area by Sunday evening.

Japan sits atop four tectonic plates and is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries. The last major quake to hit the capital, Tokyo, killed some 142,000 people in 1923, and experts say the capital has a 90 percent chance of suffering a major quake in the next 50 years.

In October 2004, a magnitude-6.8 earthquake hit northern Japan, killing 40 people and damaging more than 6,000 homes. It was the deadliest to hit Japan since 1995, when a magnitude-7.2 quake killed 6,433 people in the western city of Kobe.

Powerful quakes in 1703, 1782, 1812 and 1855 also caused vast damage in the capital.
Japan’s Meteorological Agency assigned Sunday’s quake a preliminary magnitude of 7.1, but later revised that to 6.9.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the epicenter of Sunday’s quake was 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Tokyo. The USGS measured its magnitude at 6.7.
Wajima is about 312 kilometers (193 miles) northwest of Tokyo.
Associated Press Writer

Topics Catastrophe Natural Disasters Earthquake Japan

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