SENDAI – Northeastern Japan was jolted by a series of strong earthquakes Saturday that caused hundreds of injuries, mudslides and blackouts, the Meteorological Agency said.
Three quakes all with focuses in northern Miyagi Prefecture, struck at around 12:13 a.m., 7:13 a.m. and 4:56 p.m. The second tremor was the strongest, with a magnitude of 6.2. The first measured 5.5 while the third had a strength of 5.3.
According to the National Police Agency, at least 421 people were confirmed hurt in the quakes. At least 23 people were reported as being seriously injured, the agency said.
The agency has urged caution in light of continuing aftershocks, including one with a magnitude of 5.1 that rocked the area around 10:22 a.m., as well as heavy rain alerts in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. Evacuation orders have been issued for some areas.
No tsunami warnings were issued. Yoshitada Konoike, state minister for disaster prevention, said in Tokyo that there have been no reports of people being killed or missing.
However, there have been reports of damage to buildings and homes, as well as mudslides, in various places including Miyagi Prefecture’s Naruse, Nango and Kanan. Prefectural officials said more than 90 buildings, including homes and public facilities, were damaged.
Cracks were also found on roads including a 500-meter stretch of a prefectural thoroughfare in Wakuya, northern Miyagi.
The focus of the second tremor was about 12 km below the surface of the sea near Wakuya, the agency said.
This tremor measured upper 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 in Nango, Yamoto and Naruse in Miyagi Prefecture, meaning the quake was strong enough to topple reinforced concrete-block walls and make it impossible for people to stand up.
It was the first upper-6 measurement on the Japanese scale since a quake in western Tottori Prefecture in October 2000. The Japanese seismic scale measures intensity of motion on the Earth’s surface, while magnitude measures the force of the earthquake.
Sachi Sasaki, 25, of Naruse, took refuge in a community center after the second quake hit.
“I heard a sound as though the Earth was rumbling, and it felt as if the house had been lifted up,” she said, adding that she and her children were too afraid to stay home.
In the town of Nango, 59-year-old Yoshimi Oyama was getting dressed on the second floor of his house when its supporting pillars gave way and the second story fell on top of the garage, flattening his car.
“It’s scary to think that if I’d rushed to get out, the house might have fallen on top of me and I’d have ended up like the car,” he said. “It’s a miracle I’m not hurt.”
Responding to the prefecture’s request for help in the worst-affected areas of Naruse, Yamoto and Nango, about 300 Ground Self-Defense Force personnel were dispatched to begin clearing collapsed homes and other facilities.
Konoike also urged the public to remain calm and gave assurances that the central and local governments will respond appropriately.
According to the Miyagi Prefectural Police, two people were rescued after being buried in a mudslide that affected three households in Kanan town. The National Police Agency said 16 people were slightly injured in the midnight quake.
Tohoku Electric Power Co. said about 100,000 households in northern Miyagi were without power, but electricity is gradually being restored. There were 13,600 households without electricity as of 10 a.m. in the city of Ishinomaki and the towns of Kashimadai and Nango.
The quakes that hit at 12:13 a.m. and 4:56 p.m. were a lower 6 on the Japanese scale, meaning the quake was strong enough to make it difficult for people to stand.
By the afternoon, East Japan Railway Co. had resumed services between Sendai, Miyagi, and Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line. Some services, including the runs between Tokyo and Hachinohe and the capital and Akita, were halted.
Some 43,000 train passengers were affected by delays of up to four hours. Miyagi Prefectural Government officials said a four-car train on the JR Ishinomaki Line in Kanan derailed, but there were no reports of injuries among the 10 passengers.
Traffic was also halted on highways such as the Tohoku Expressway.
The agency said it was the first time since it began taking records of earthquakes that three earthquakes with an intensity of six or higher on the Japanese scale had occurred on the same day. It also said the distance between the focus of the first two quakes was about 5 km.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power said nothing unusual was observed at the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power plants in neighboring Fukushima Prefecture and the Onagawa nuclear power station in Miyagi.