• Kyodo

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Six oil tanks at Idemitsu Kosan Co.’s oil refinery in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, that were damaged by the Sept. 26 earthquakes could catch fire, according to authorities.

Idemitsu has already suffered two fires triggered by the two major earthquakes that hit southern Hokkaido on Sept. 26. The temblors damaged oil storage facilities at the refinery, and two tanks — one for crude oil and the other for naphtha — caught fire.

Idemitsu notified the prefectural government of the vulnerability of the six tanks the day after the earthquakes. But the Hokkaido government failed to promptly publicize the information due to a “lack of awareness” in the chaotic aftermath of the quake strike, according to Hokkaido officials.

The Hokkaido government did not set up an on-site disaster prevention unit at the Tomakomai refinery until Thursday.

The Hokkaido department for disaster prevention and firefighting said three crude oil tanks, including the one that caught fire immediately after the earthquake, and three kerosene tanks are still vulnerable to fire.

The Tomakomai City Hall said the city received about 200 complaints Thursday about the smell of vaporized oil.

Hokkaido fire officials said the gauging equipment in the oil tank that caught fire Friday was partially damaged.

The covers of two other crude oil tanks collapsed after the earthquakes, sinking below the oil, the officials said.

The covers of three kerosene tanks were also damaged, and kerosene leaked into the protective banks that surround the tanks.

Hokkaido fire officials singled out one tank containing 66,000 kiloliters of crude oil as a particularly high fire hazard. The stair connecting the top of the tank to the cover is in danger of collapsing. If it does so, it might trigger sparks that could ignite the oil.

Hokkaido fire authorities have been pouring fire retardants on the damaged tanks and have closed nearby roads.

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