SAPPORO — Two powerful earthquakes, one with a preliminary magnitude of 8, struck Hokkaido early Friday, sparking a refinery fire and generating several tsunami.
At least 420 people were injured as of late Friday afternoon, Kyodo News said, while government officials reported there were 23 people who sustained injuries such as broken bones.
In a quake-related accident, a man was struck and killed by a car while cleaning up debris.
Hokkaido police found two vacant cars near an estuary of the Tokachi River in the town of Toyokoro. They suspect the drivers, who were reportedly fishing, were swept away by a tsunami.
It was the first magnitude-8 quake to hit Japan and its vicinity since an October 1994 tremor that originated off eastern Hokkaido. The Meteorological Agency warned that there is a 70 percent possibility of aftershocks with a magnitude 6 or higher hitting the region within three days.
According to the Geographical Survey Institute, a measurement point for the global positioning system in the town of Erimo, southern Hokkaido, was found to have moved 87 cm east-southeastward. Similar land movements were also observed in nearby regions, the institute said.
The temblors derailed a train, caused power outages and widespread transportation disruptions. The tsunami overturned two fishing boats and swept cars out to sea.
Initial reports showed damage was mainly in Hokkaido.
Some 41,000 people in Hokkaido evacuated from their homes on the advice of local authorities due to tsunami alerts, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.
Russian authorities also issued a tsunami warning for the eastern coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russian media reported. The warning was later lifted.
The quakes occurred under the Pacific Ocean off the southeastern Hokkaido city of Kushiro and the eastern city of Nemuro. Kushiro is about 900 km northeast of Tokyo.
The one fatality, Seiichi Ogasawara, 61, a garbage collector, was hit by a car in the town of Nakashibetsu, eastern Hokkaido, as he was clearing debris from a road after the quake.
Tsunami capsized two small fishing boats in coastal waters in Samani, a fishing town in southern Hokkaido, local officials said.
In Erimo, on the southern coast of Hokkaido, tsunami hit three locations, sweeping unoccupied cars into the sea, local firefighters said.
A Hokkaido Railway Co. express train derailed in Onbetsu, injuring one of the 39 passengers on board. JR Hokkaido said the company temporarily suspended all train services in the prefecture.
A fire broke out in a petroleum tank in Idemitsu Kosan Co.’s refinery in Tomakomai, a costal city in southern Hokkaido, firefighters said. There have been no reports of injuries. It was contained shortly after noon, according to city officials.
Idemitsu Kosan said it was not clear why the fire broke out, adding that the last safety checkup of the facility showed no signs of problem that could have triggered the fire.
The government set up an emergency task force at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo, disaster management minister Kiichi Inoue told reporters. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was briefed at his office on the casualties and damage.
Koizumi told reporters that the government would make utmost efforts to restore the damage from the quake.
The first earthquake, which struck at 4:50 a.m., originated 42 km underground off Kushiro, the Meteorological Agency said. The agency revised the preliminary magnitude of the first temblor to 8.0 from 7.8.
The second quake struck at 6:08 a.m. and registered an estimated magnitude of 7.1. It, too, originated 60 km off the Tokachi area in southern Hokkaido, according to the agency.
Both quakes measured a maximum intensity of lower 6 in Hokkaido on the Japanese seismic scale to 7.
Under the Japanese seismic classification system, which measures the intensity of tremors on the Earth’s surface, an intensity-6 earthquake can damage houses, trigger landslides or crack roads.
The Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami warning for coastal areas in eastern and central Hokkaido and a tsunami alert for coastal areas in western Hokkaido as well as in Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures on Honshu. The warning was later downgraded to an alert.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a tsunami warning for Russia as well as Japan. It also issued a lower-level tsunami watch for the Philippines, Taiwan, Guam, and a number of islands in the Pacific Ocean.
A tsunami about 1 meter high hit the shores around Kushiro at 5:18 a.m. A tsunami in Nemuro at 5:40 p.m. was 90 cm high, and one in Urakawa on the coast in central Hokkaido at 6:24 a.m. measured 1.6 meters high.
Outside Hokkaido, a tsunami of 60 cm was reported on the shores of the Tohoku region.
Kushiro airport was shut down because the control tower was damaged, but there was no damage to the runway, the airport said. Airport operations resumed at 3 p.m., but airlines had canceled most of the day’s scheduled flights to and from Kushiro.
Road traffic was suspended on some sections of the prefecture’s key highways to check for damage, while police officers were directing traffic as stoplights were not working due to a power outage.
Hokkaido Electric Power Co. said the earthquake triggered an automatic shutdown of the Tomato-Atsuma thermal power station in Atsuma and caused a blackout in nearby communities.
The power output of one of the two reactors at the Tomari nuclear power station temporarily dropped to 48 percent of capacity after the thermal power station was hit.
But it was restored to full capacity Friday morning, Hokkaido Electric Power officials said. The other reactor is not operating because of a glitch.
The Hokkaido utility said 370,000 homes were hit by a blackout in Kushiro and neighboring towns shortly after the quakes. Power supply was restored to all the households shortly after 9 p.m., the utility said.
Industry shuts down
A series of powerful earthquakes on Hokkaido forced many local manufacturers to suspend plant operations Friday.
Nippon Paper Industries Co. temporarily shut down its plants in Kushiro and Tomakomai as damage and water leakage were found in boilers and water-intake pipes.
As of 6 p.m., Nippon Steel Corp. was gauging aftershocks while maintaining the temperature of a blast furnace at its iron mill in Muroran adding any iron ore to it.
Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. suspended operations at its plant in the town of Onbetsu, west of Kushiro, for the entire day to conduct safety checks.
Among other affected manufacturers, Toyota Motor Corp.’s engine plant in Tomakomai partially stopped operations following the quakes. Operations resumed at 10:30 a.m. after no trouble was found.
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