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Nippon Telegraph and Telephone West Corp. said Friday it has set up an emergency voice-mail service for people worried about friends and family in regions of western Japan affected by a powerful earthquake earlier in the day.

Calls to phone numbers starting with 08, which covers the five prefectures in the Chugoku region and the four on Shikoku Island, will be included in the service, said the company, a regional arm of telecom giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.

The service was launched in response to local phone congestion caused by a flood of callers.

To use the service, callers must first dial 171 and follow the recorded instructions before entering the number they want to call. They will then be able to leave messages or listen to recorded ones.

A total of 10 messages up to 30 seconds long can be recorded from regular or mobile phones, NTT West said.

By evening, many people calling Tottori, Shimane, Hiroshima and Okayama prefectures as well as the eastern part of Yamaguchi Prefecture were getting busy signals. Congestion in western Yamaguchi had subsided, according to NTT West.

It said none of its switchboards and junction circuits suffered damage in the magnitude 7.3 quake, which struck around 1:30 p.m.

In a related development, the Japanese Bankers Association said Friday it has extended operations of its settlement system for banks by half an hour to 4 p.m. because phone congestion caused delays for some local banks that were transmitting data.

The Bank of Japan also delayed the closing of its bank settlement system by 30 minutes to 5:30 p.m.

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