At least 19 missing, 120 injured after powerful quake hits Hokkaido, triggering landslides

At least 19 missing, 120 injured after powerful quake hits Hokkaido, triggering landslides
PHOTO: Reuters

TOKYO - A powerful earthquake triggered a landslide that engulfed houses on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido early on Thursday (Sept 6), television footage showed, injuring and trapping dozens of people and cutting power to millions across Hokkaido.

A landslide along a long ridge in the rural town of Atsuma could be seen in aerial footage from public broadcaster NHK. At least 19 people were missing and 120 people were injured in Hokkaido after the magnitude 6.7 quake, it said.

There were no early reports of deaths but a man suffered cardiac arrest after falling down stairs, Japanese media reported.

"The shaking was vertical. It was sudden and strong," one man in Sapporo told national broadcaster NHK.

"I was scared. Inside the shop I felt the tremor, which lasted for about 30 seconds," another Sapporo resident said. "I was on the sixth floor, it was really scary."

Japan's Hokkaido Electric Power said it conducted an emergency shutdown of all its fossil fuel-fired power plants after the quake, leading to blackouts across Hokkaido.

Efforts to restore power to 2.95 million households were underway but it was not clear when supplies would be restored, a company spokesman said.

Japan's Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said the ministry instructed Hokkaido Electric Power to restart the coal-fired Tomato-Atsuma power plant within a few hours.

Roof tiles and water covered floors at Hokkaido's main airport, New Chitose Airport, which would be closed for at least Thursday.

Kansai Airport, an important hub for companies exporting semiconductors in western Japan, remained closed due to a powerful typhoon earlier this week.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said officials hope to reopen Kansai Airport for domestic flights on Friday.

FIRE, POWER OUTAGES

The quake, which struck at 3.08am (2.08am Singapore time) posed no tsunami risk, the Japan Meteorological Agency(JMA) said.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said earlier it struck some 68km south-east of Sapporo, Hokkaido's main city, at a magnitude of 6.6.

Abe arrived at his office before 6am and told reporters his government had set up a command centre to coordinate relief and rescue. Sounding haggard, Abe said saving lives was his government's top priority.

Japan's Self-Defence Forces have been dispatched to help with recovery efforts. "The SDF is already deploying some 4000 troops for (rescue work), and it plans to strengthen the number to 25,000 troops. We will do our best to save lives," said Abe after an emergency cabinet meeting.

The Tomari Nuclear Power Station suffered a power outage but was cooling its fuel rods safely with emergency power, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.

Operator Hokkaido Electric Power Co reported no radiation irregularities at the plant, which has been shut since shortly after a massive 2011 earthquake, Suga told a news conference.

A fire broke out at a Mitsubishi Steel Mfg Co plant in the city of Muroran after the quake but was mostly extinguished with no injuries, a company official said.

A row of houses could be seen slanting at odd angles, leaning against one another in one town, and many schools were closed, NHK said.

NHK footage showed a crumbled brick wall and broken glass in a home, and quoted police as saying some people were trapped in collapsed structures.

Soldiers were shown looking for damage on a rural road that was blocked by fallen trees.

A series of smaller shocks, including one with a magnitude of 5.4, followed the initial quake, the JMA said. Agency official Toshiyuki Matsumori warned residents to take precautions for potential major aftershocks in coming days.

Shinkansen bullet trains were halted in some areas of Hokkaido, NHK said.

"Large quakes often occur, especially within two to three days (of a big one)," said Toshiyuki Matsumori, in charge of monitoring earthquakes and tsunamis at the meteorological agency.

He added the risk of housing collapses and landslides had increased in the area hit by the quake, saying: "We urge residents to pay full attention to seismic activity and rainfall and not to go into dangerous areas."

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Japan, situated on the Ring of Fire arc of volcanoes and oceanic trenches that partly encircles the Pacific Basin, accounts for about 20 per cent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the most powerful ever recorded in Japan, struck under the ocean off the coast of the northern city of Sendai. The quake set off a series of massive tsunami that devastated a wide swathe of the Pacific coastline and killed nearly 20,000.

The tsunami also damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, leading to a series of explosions and meltdowns in the world's worst nuclear disaster for 25 years.

Saturday marked the 95th anniversary of the Great Kanto earthquake, which had a magnitude of 7.9 and killed more than 140,000 people in the Tokyo area. Seismologists have said another such quake could strike the city at any time.

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