• Kyodo

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A total of 116 people from nine prefectures were injured and at least 2,086 buildings were damaged in the magnitude-7.3 earthquake that shook wide areas of western Japan on Friday, disaster officials said Saturday.

The Meteorological Agency estimated the probability of an aftershock measuring magnitude 6 or more during the three days from Saturday evening to be 5 percent, with the likelihood of an aftershock of 5 or more estimated at 40 percent.

About 700 police and firefighters in Tottori Prefecture, where 74 people were injured, remained on alert for further incidents as aftershocks continued to hit the area Saturday. Helicopters were dispatched to mountainous regions of the prefecture to look for damaged buildings and roads.

A government mission led by National Land Agency chief Chikage Ogi visited Tottori Prefecture on Saturday morning to discuss relief measures with local authorities, prefectural officials said.

Ogi told Tottori Gov. Yoshihiro Katayama: “It’s a great relief that nobody has died because of the quake. The government will do everything it can.”

The governor said the quake caused considerable damage to Showa Wharf in the city of Sakaiminato — including a 250-meter-long fissure — which is likely to take at least one year and hundreds of millions of yen to repair.

The quake struck at 1:30 p.m. Friday, registering 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 town of Mizokuchi, and an upper 5 in the city of Yonago, all in Tottori Prefecture, the Meteorological Agency said.

The epicenter was some 10 km underground in largely rural western Tottori Prefecture.

Some 2,600 residents in Tottori, about 200 in neighboring Shimane Prefecture and eight in Okayama Prefecture were evacuated from their homes and spent the night in local community centers.

Five foreign nationals — four Peruvians and one Brazilian who work at a factory in Sakaiminato — were among the evacuees at a community center in the city.

The five returned home from the factory immediately after the quake but decided to leave after midnight following a series of aftershocks.

Helena Oshiro, a 54-year-old Japanese-Brazilian, said: “I came here after learning about the evacuation center while watching television. I was scared to death as I had never experienced such a strong quake.”

The Tottori Prefectural Government sent teams of psychiatrists to the centers to provide the evacuees with support, while prefectural police dispatched some 20 female officers to the centers, the authorities said.

More than 300 aftershocks strong enough to be detected by people had hit the area as of 3 p.m. Saturday, including three with an intensity of 4 on the Japanese scale — one at 4:59 a.m. in western Tottori Prefecture, another at 8:17 a.m. in eastern Shimane Prefecture and one at 12:03 p.m., also in eastern Shimane Prefecture, according to the Meteorological Agency.

Some evacuees said they wanted to return home to tidy up but could not because of fears that, amid continuing aftershocks, another big quake might hit the area.

Masayuki Kikuchi, professor of seismology at the University of Tokyo, told reporters that Friday’s quake was in fact two temblors that occurred one after another with a time lag of several seconds. This also occurred at the time of the Great Hanshin Earthquake on Jan. 17, 1995, the researcher said.

Authorities are continuing to assess damage to infrastructure, such as water lines and transportation routes blocked by landslides caused by the quake.

All affected expressways were reopened by Saturday morning after traffic resumed on the Yonago expressway, according to Tottori prefectural officials.

The relatively limited damage from the quake was partially attributed to the fact that the epicenter was far from heavily populated areas, experts said.

In terms of magnitude, the quake was stronger than the Great Hanshin Earthquake, which registered 7.2 and killed 6,424 people, mainly in and around Kobe — about 200 km from the focus of Friday’s quake.

Kyoto University professor Yasuhiro Umeda said the quake probably caused relatively little damage because its focus was in hard soil beneath less-populated mountainous areas.

Many local government officials stayed up all night to deal with disaster relief.

In the town of Saihaku, Tottori Prefecture, a 47-year-old town official had a heart attack around 8:30 a.m Saturday. His condition was stable after being transferred to a hospital, where a doctor told reporters that his condition was probably caused by overwork.

A total of 138 elementary, junior high and senior high schools in Tottori, Shimane and Okayama prefectures were closed Saturday.

A number of citizens’ group, including some from Kobe, came to help relief activities being conducted for evacuees at public gymnasiums and community centers in the affected areas.

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.

Quake strength in doubt

An expert in urban disaster prevention has cast doubt on the accuracy of readings on the 7-point Japanese intensity scale for earthquakes, saying the upper 6 registered for the quake in Tottori Prefecture earlier in the day was, in reality, closer to 5.

Toshio Mochizuki, a professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University, told Kyodo News that the Japanese scale has been measured by machine instead of humans since the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.

He said, however, that an imperfect formula was used to harmonize the readings after the changeover in measurement method.

The readings for the recent quakes on Miyake Island would have been lower under the previous system of measurement, Mochizuki said.

Practice makes perfect

TOTTORI (Kyodo) Like many schools in quake-prone Japan, Seido Elementary School in Sakaiminato, Tottori Prefecture, held an earthquake drill Friday morning at 10 a.m.

The drill was conducted on the assumption that an earthquake registering upper 6 on the Japanese scale of 7 had struck the city.

As they had been trained to do in the morning drill, students dashed to take cover under desks when a real quake struck at 1:30 p.m. As it subsided, all 113 students and 17 teachers and school officials assembled on the school ground. No one was hurt.

Principal Masatomo Ishimizu said: “We issued evacuation instructions properly because the earthquake came shortly after the drill. We were very surprised by the pure coincidence that an earthquake measuring the same intensity (as in the drill) occurred.”

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