Powerful quake shakes Japan

A powerful magnitude-7,2 earthquake struck north-eastern Japan on Tuesday, injuring at least 56 people, triggering small tsunamis and shaking skyscrapers as far away as Tokyo, 300km to the south.

A caved-in roof at an indoor pool in the coastal city of Sendai injured 14 people, national broadcaster NHK reported. Others in the quake zone were hurt by falling rocks and tumbling roof tiles or trapped in elevators.

Footage also showed a collapsed house outside Tokyo and landslides in the quake-hit area. Kyodo News said there were preliminary reports of 27 people injured.

“The horizontal shaking was very strong, so much so that I almost couldn’t remain standing,” said Masami Oshima, an official with Miyagi prefecture, which includes Sendai.

The temblor knocked out power to about 17 000 households, while bullet-train services in northern Japan were suspended and flights were temporarily grounded at Tokyo’s Haneda airport.
Nippon Oil shut a refinery in Sendai.

The quake hit at about 11.46am (2.46am GMT) and was centred 20km below the ocean floor about 80km off the coast of Miyagi prefecture in north-eastern Japan, the Meteorological Agency said. Two 10cm tsunamis hit the nearby coast shortly after noon, and officials expected little damage from the waves.

The quake was followed by at least four aftershocks and additional quakes of up to magnitude six could follow, the agency said.

In 1995, a magnitude-7,3 quake in the western port city of Kobe killed 6 400 people. The depth and offshore location of Tuesday’s quake helped limit the damage that might have occurred had the temblor been centred under a city.

Authorities in Miyagi were still assessing damage in the area. Sendai, the capital of Miyagi, is about 300km north-east of Tokyo. A nuclear power plant in the neighbouring prefecture of Fukushima was not affected by the earthquake, Kyodo reported, citing the plant’s operator. Another plant in Onagawa in Miyagi prefecture shut down automatically and was being checked for damage, news reports said.

Among the pool casualties, one was seriously hurt, NHK said. A 72-year-old man sustained a broken leg, news reports said. A seven-year-old child was injured by falling rocks in the town of Zao, according to local official Mitsuharu Shishido.

Japan sits at the juncture of four tectonic plates—or moving slabs of the Earth’s outer crust—and is one of the world’s most quake-prone regions. A magnitude-six quake shook the Tokyo area on July 23, injuring more than two dozen people and suspending flights and trains for hours. A magnitude-five quake can damage homes and other buildings if it is centred in a heavily populated area.

Earlier on Tuesday, a 4,9-magnitude earthquake shook Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido. There was no danger of a tsunami.—Sapa-AP