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Powerful earthquake hits northern Japan

world Updated: Jul 24, 2008 09:21 IST
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A powerful earthquake rattled northern Japan early on Thursday, injuring at least 91 people, triggering landslides and cutting power to thousands of households.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said the temblor, which had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8, struck shortly after midnight at a depth of about 65 miles (105 kilometers) near the coast of Iwate, 280 miles (450 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo.

Most of the injuries were cuts and bruises from broken glass and falling objects. None were life threatening, said National Police Agency official on condition of anonymity, citing department policy. The earthquake caused strong shaking of up to 40 seconds in many areas of northern Japan, witnesses said.

"Everything has fallen off the shelves, scattered all over the floor," grocery store owner Tomio Kudo told national broadcaster NHK from the town of Hirono, where the shaking was most violent. "Even a big refrigerator has moved about 30 centimeters (1 foot)." Japan's Kyodo News agency said 127 people were injured, citing its own tally.

A 6.8 magnitude earthquake is capable of causing serious, widespread damage.

Several nuclear power plants in the region, including a controversial nuclear recycling plant in the village of Rokkasho, continued operations after inspection by plant workers found no problems, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in a statement.

The quake caused a blackout at more than 8,000 homes, it said. Japan's "bullet" super-express trains were suspended in some areas, according to operator East Japan Railway Co. The earthquake also triggered landslides at several locations, the police agency official said. Details were not immediately available.

Relief workers and local officials hit the streets to take a closer look to the affected areas in daylight on Thursday. A team of government officials headed by Disaster Minister Shinya Izumi also arrived in Iwate.

"We must grasp the extent of damage as quickly as possible so that we can immediately take necessary steps," Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters.

Police said some of the more serious injuries included a woman in Hirono who broke a leg falling down stairs and another woman in Aomori city who broke her hip fleeing out a window. Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries. Last month, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck sparsely populated rural areas in northern Japan, killing at least 12 people, leaving 10 others missing and injuring more than 300.

Meteorological Agency official Takashi Yokota warned of possible aftershocks from Thursday's quake.

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