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Two women were killed Saturday afternoon and at least 80 other people were reported injured, two of them seriously, when a powerful 6.4-magnitude earthquake jolted a large area of western Japan, the Meteorological Agency and police said.

In the city of Hojo in Ehime Prefecture, Kyoko Takeuchi, a 50-year-old housewife, was killed when the second-floor balcony of an apartment fell.

In Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, Tomoe Yamasaki, 80, was killed when part of a concrete gymnasium wall fell on her at Shimizugaoka Senior High School, police said. About a dozen other people were hurt in the same incident.

The quake, which occurred at 3:28 p.m., had an intensity of lower 6 on the Japanese scale of 7 in Kochi, Osaki and Kumano, all in Hiroshima Prefecture, and upper 5 in many parts of Ehime and Yamaguchi prefectures.

No tsunami warning was issued, according to the agency.

A quake of lower 6 on the Japanese scale is strong enough to make it hard for a person to remain standing and to topple concrete walls and break windows.

The focus of the quake is estimated to have been about 60 km below the seabed south of the city of Hiroshima in the Seto Inland Sea.

As of 7:30 p.m., 80 people had been reported injured, with the two most serious cases in Hiroshima Prefecture, the Fire Defense Agency said.

At least 13 other people were injured in Hiroshima Prefecture, eight in Ehime Prefecture, four in Yamaguchi Prefecture, two in Shimane Prefecture and one in Kochi Prefecture, according to earlier reports reaching the National Police Agency.

Among those injured in Hiroshima Prefecture was a person struck by a falling television set in the town of Numakuma, police reported.

In Yamaguchi Prefecture, a petroleum duct at an oil plant on the Seto Inland Sea coast near Iwakuni was damaged and petroleum has leaked into the sea, the Japan Coast Guard said.

Bullet train operations on the Sanyo Shinkansen Line have been suspended for safety checks between Okayama Station in Okayama, and Hataka Station in Fukuoka Prefecture, West Japan Railway Co. said.

Highway services were also reportedly suspended for safety reasons.

In Tokyo, the central government has set up an ad hoc office to cope with damage and reconstruction in the affected areas.

All Nippon Airways said none of the airports it uses has reported major damage.

The tremor did not affect the operations of two nuclear plants in the area, according the plants’ operators. Shikoku Electric Power Co. said its Ikata Nuclear Power Plant in Ikata, Ehime Prefecture, about 70 km south of the focus, was unaffected. Chugoku Electric Power Co. said its plant in Kashima, Shimane Prefecture, about 160 km north of the focus, is operating as normal.

50-year quake cycle

Major earthquakes occur just under every 50 years in the area of western Japan that was rocked by a magnitude 6.4 quake on Saturday afternoon, a seismologist said.

Katsuyuki Abe, a professor at the Earthquake Research Institute of the University of Tokyo, said the fact that the focus of the quake was deep indicates that it occurred at a point where the Philippine Sea plate is sliding underneath the Eurasian plate, on which western Japan sits.

Abe pointed out that a powerful earthquake occurs roughly every 50 years in the Hiroshima Bay area. He said a quake with a magnitude of between 7.2 and 7.3 struck the area in 1857. A similar quake occurred in 1905, followed by another with a magnitude of 6.2 in 1949.

“Judging from the depth of this quake, there will be no strong aftershocks,” Abe said.

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