A strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.3 struck western Japan early Saturday, causing at least 23 injuries and traumatic flashbacks to the deadly 1995 Kobe temblor, the Meteorological Agency said.
The 5:33 a.m. quake registered lower 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale to 7 on Awaji Island in Hyogo Prefecture. It originated near the island at a depth of around 15 km, the agency said.
No tsunami warning was issued, but the agency warned that aftershocks as strong as lower 5 might occur for about a week.
The central government set up a task force at the prime minister’s office while the Cabinet’s crisis management officials were instructed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to gather information on any damage and to make every effort to help the injured, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
The National Police Agency said 23 injuries, including 14 in Hyogo, had been confirmed across five prefectures.
Local officials on Awaji Island said they have received reports of damage to roofs and walls but that no large-scale structural problems have been confirmed.
No quake damage was immediately observed at nuclear facilities in western areas, including the Ikata power plant in Ehime Prefecture, the Shimane plant in Shimane Prefecture and an atomic laboratory in Osaka, their operators said.
The Oi atomic power station in Fukui Prefecture, the only nuclear facility in the nation that’s actually generating electricity, was also apparently unaffected.
“Our operation has continued because we haven’t monitored any abnormalities, but we are still checking whether there was any damage to the facilities,” said an official at the plant, which is run by Kansai Electric Power Co.
Many train lines in Hyogo and surrounding areas were suspended for safety inspections but most resumed service later in the day, operators said.
The major airports in the area were undamaged, the transport ministry reported. Although the temblor delayed four landings at Kansai International Airport in Osaka, all arrived safely.
Other infrastructure, including roads and bridges, were unaffected by the quake and no blackouts occurred.
On Jan. 17, 1995, the 7.3-magnitude Great Hanshin Earthquake struck north of Awaji Island, destroying much of Kobe and neighboring areas and killing about 6,400 people. The agency said the fault movements of the two quakes were different and that it will take more time to determine whether they are linked, although their depths and the times at which they struck were eerily similar.
On Awaji, residents were understandably frightened.
“First, I felt like I was tossed into the air by the Earth. Then came continuous horizontal shaking,” said resident Toshihiro Ueda, 53. “I had a flashback to the (Great Hanshin) quake.”
A Minamiawaji Municipal Government employee said he was half-asleep when the temblor hit: “I couldn’t move. All I could do was just hide under my futon until the shaking was over.”
The quake also apparently rattled the nerves of a transport ministry official who mistakenly warned scores of airport offices that a North Korean missile had been launched.
The bureaucrat, who works in the Osaka aviation bureau, sent out an email to 87 airport offices warning of the nonexistent missile launch when he was trying to send out an alert about the temblor instead, the ministry said.