A strong earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 hit the Chugoku region near the Sea of Japan coast in western Japan at 1:30 p.m. Friday, injuring at least 34 people and damaging several buildings, the Meteorological Agency and police said.

The National Police Agency said 28 injured were in the Chugoku and Shikoku regions. However, a tally of municipal officials in all the affected areas indicated at least 34 people were injured.

The quake registered an intensity of upper 6 on the Japanese scale of 7 in the city of Sakaiminato and the town of Hino, a lower 6 in the towns of Saihaku and Mizokuchi, and an upper 5 in Yonago, all in Tottori Prefecture, the agency said.

Two nuclear reactors operated by Chugoku Electric Power Co. are located about 20 km west of Sakaiminato. However, the reactors were not in operation when the quake struck as they were undergoing regular technical checkups.

Chugoku Electric officials said preliminary checks after the quake did not indicate any malfunctions, failures or radiation leaks.

An intensity of upper 5 was registered in Shodo Island in the Seto Inland Sea, and Niimi, Tetta, Ochiai and Mikamo, all in Okayama Prefecture, the agency said.

Many other areas in the prefectures of Tottori, Okayama, Shimane and Kagawa registered intensities of lower 5 in the quake, the agency said.

The focus of the quake, which lasted more than 10 seconds, was about 10 km below ground in western Tottori Prefecture.

Several aftershocks also rocked the region, and Naoya Mikami, an official at the agency’s Earthquake and Tsunami Observations Division, warned that magnitude-6 level aftershocks may continue to hit the area.

No tsunami warning was issued.

In terms of magnitude, the quake was stronger than the Great Hanshin Earthquake of Jan. 17, 1995, which registered 7.2 and killed more than 6,000 people, mainly in Kobe and its vicinity.

Among the injured reported by Tottori officials were several students hurt while returning home from school.

Two people in Saihaku, Tottori Prefecture, were injured when a Shinto shrine building and several houses collapsed, the officials said.

In Yonago, collapsed houses blocked traffic at three locations, and Yonago airport was shut down due to cracks in its runway. Leaking gas was also reported, prefectural officials said.

Landslides occurred in Hino, Mizokuchi and other parts of Tottori Prefecture, partly blocking road and railway traffic, municipal officials said.

Also in Hino, a local hospital said about 10 people had been brought in as of 3 p.m. after sustaining injuries as a result of the quake.

A power outage affected 2,553 houses in the town of Mizokuchi, and 164 in Kagawa Prefecture, electric power companies said.

Shinkansen train services were temporarily halted between Hamamatsu in Shizuoka Prefecture and Tokuyama in Yamaguchi Prefecture because of a power outage caused by the quake.

The Tottori governor issued a formal request as of 2:29 p.m. for the Ground Self-Defense Force to provide disaster relief in stricken areas.

The government set up a special task force in the afternoon to deal with the quake. Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori told reporters there was no need to expand the task force as there have been no reported deaths in the quake.

“It is consoling to think there have been no reports of deaths,” Mori told reporters at his official residence. “When you consider the huge size of the earthquake, the damage has been small so far.”

The National Police Agency, which oversees police operations nationwide, set up its own task force, while the Defense Agency held an emergency meeting to cope with the quake.

The Japan Coast Guard sent aircraft to the quake-hit area. It plans to dispatch three more planes later. The Defense Agency dispatched two Air Self-Defense Force F-15 fighters to survey the situation.

The Construction Ministry also dispatched helicopters from its offices in the Kanto, Kinki and Kyushu regions to assess damage.

Defense Agency chief Kazuo Torashima called in top officials of the agency and the SDF at 3 p.m. and instructed the organizations to actively participate in possible rescue operations.

In September 1943, Tottori Prefecture was hit by a magnitude 7.2 quake that registered 6 on the Japanese intensity scale and killed 1,083 people. About 7,500 houses were also destroyed.

Big scare for 3,000

YONAGO, Tottori (Kyodo) The powerful earthquake that rocked many areas of western Japan on Friday afternoon stunned 3,000 participants at a welfare conference here but injured none, attendees said.

“I’ve never been shaken by such a strong quake,” said a 55-year-old woman attending the meeting on the nursing-care system. The Yonago Convention Center, the venue for the event, was rattled about when the quake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale hit around 1:30 p.m.

Some of those attending said it began with vertical tremors followed by horizontal heaving. Several screamed when they saw large speakers suspended from the ceiling swaying back and forth.

“The rumbling sound came first, and strong rolls,” said Takamasa Mochida, an official with the Daisen town hall.

He said the primary quake lasted more than 10 seconds, during which he could not get up from his chair.

“I got too nervous to move around after the quake,” said Yoshihiro Takada, an official in the general affairs section at the village hall of Hiezu, which neighbors Yonago.

Parts of the ceiling in the village hall fell, he said, adding that none of the 20 employees working there at the time were injured.

“I thought the whole building tilted for a moment,” said Chieko Maeda, an official with the nearby Saihaku town hall, adding that books, documents and flowers fell from shelves and desks.

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