Saturday, June 14, 2008

Earthquake - Japan (Iwate) JUN

KURIHARA, Japan (Reuters) - A powerful earthquake struck rural northern Japan on Saturday, killing at least three people, injuring more than 100 and sparking landslides, officials and media said.



The 7.2 magnitude quake struck at 8:43 a.m. (7:43 p.m. EDT Friday) in Iwate, a sparsely populated, scenic area around 300 km (190 miles) north of Tokyo, where buildings also shook faintly.



Dozens of aftershocks rocked the northern area and officials warned more strong quakes might be in store. But experts said the energy released by the quake was far smaller than the magnitude 7.9 earthquake that hit southwestern China on May 12, leaving nearly 87,000 people dead or missing.

"I was at home and we had finished eating breakfast," said Akira Nishimura, an official from the city hall in Kurihara.

"We got under the table", he said, referring to himself, his 4-year-old child and his wife.

One of the people killed was caught in a landslide, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told reporters. A second man was hit by a car after running out of a building and a third was killed by falling rocks at a dam construction site.

Seven people were trapped in a hot-spring resort inn hit by a landslide but police had rescued five and were trying to get the other two out, NHK public TV reported.

Three more were missing at a work site after another landslide in Kurihara, Kyodo news agency reported, adding that more than 100 people were hurt throughout the quake-hit region.

Rail operator JR East said 2,000 were trapped on bullet trains that stopped between stations due to the quake. Some lines had resumed service but 1,000 passengers were still waiting on one stranded train, JR East said.

More than 300 people were cut off in remote areas after landslides blocked roads, and rescue helicopters were heading their way, media reports said.

SPARSE POPULATION

A highway was closed and TV footage showed huge cracks in some roads, while others were swamped by landslides.

Experts said casualties could rise as reports came in from isolated areas but that the scope of the quake was far smaller than one that hit southwestern China a month ago.

"The seismic energy of the China quake was one order of magnitude greater," Naoshi Hirata, a professor at Tokyo University's Earthquake Research Institute, told Reuters.

He added the region's sparse population and Japan's strict building standards had likely limited the impact.

Water containing a small amount of radiation leaked within a Tokyo Electric Power Co nuclear power facility in the region, but there was no leakage outside, a spokesman for Japan's biggest utility said.

Tohoku Electric Power said its nuclear plants at Onagawa and Higashidori were running as usual.

About 20 people on a bus that swept by a landslide 50 meters into a ravine were rescued by helicopter, media reports said, adding that several were injured, some seriously.

Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world's most seismically active areas. The country accounts for about 20 percent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater, prompting tough building codes to try to limit damage.

The government set up an emergency response centre, the Tokyo Fire Department sent a relief team and the local governor asked for help from a military disaster relief unit.

"We are doing all that we can," Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters. "The most important thing is to rescue people.

Tohoku Electric Power Co Inc said more than 30,000 people suffered power cuts but most was restored within hours of the shallow quake.

"It shook for about two minutes," Kazue Hishiya, manager of a hotel in Iwate prefecture, said by telephone.

"Three television sets fell off shelves, elevators have stopped, and we've turned off the boiler."

In October 2004, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck the Niigata region in northern Japan, killing 65 people and injuring more than 3,000.

That was the deadliest quake since a magnitude 7.3 tremor hit the city of Kobe in 1995, killing more than 6,400.

(Additional reporting by Chisa Fujioka, Yoko Kubota, Yuzo Saeki, Chikafumi Hodo, Osamu Tsukimori and Nathan Layne; Writing by Linda Sieg) - Source

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