An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.2 shook Niigata Prefecture on Thursday morning, causing a bullet train line and a nuclear power plant to temporarily halt operations. Only minor injuries were reported.
The quake is believed to be an aftershock related to the devastating magnitude 6.8 earthquake and two other strong quakes that hit the area on the evening of Oct. 23, the Meteorological Agency said. Strong aftershocks have been rattling the area ever since.
The quake, which struck at 8:57 a.m., registered upper-5 on the Japanese intensity scale of 7 in the towns of Koshiji and Mishima. Its focus was about 20 km underneath the Chuetsu region in central Niigata Prefecture, the agency said.
The last time a quake measuring 5 or above on the Japanese scale hit the area was Oct. 27, when a lower-6 temblor shook the region.
In Nagaoka, the aftershock caused a 40-year-old man to burn his hand while frying food at a supermarket, city officials said.
In Kashiwazaki, the No. 7 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant automatically shut down after the quake, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co. The utility said there was no danger of environmental contamination.
Bullet train runs on the Joetsu Shinkansen Line meanwhile came to a halt between Niigata and Nagaoka stations, according to East Japan Railway Co. The Tsubamesanjo-Nagaoka section of the line, which had just resumed operations for the first time since the October quakes, was also among the sections shut down.
The Nagaoka-Echigoyuzawa section — site of the first bullet train derailment in shinkansen history — remains out of operation, with no likelihood of service resuming anytime soon, the railway said.
The official death toll in the prefecture from the powerful quakes since Oct. 23 has grown to 39 with the death of Yokichi Tamura, 71, who was living in a shelter in Tochio since Oct. 24. He died Wednesday of what was believed to be a stress-related heart attack, police said Thursday.
The Meteorological Agency has warned people in the area that there is a high probability aftershocks measuring 5 or above on the Japanese scale will continue for about month.
In the cities of Nagaoka and Tokamachi, 92 elementary and junior high schools and schools for disabled children reopened Thursday morning.
The prefectural board of education said 35 schools in five municipalities, including Ojiya and the town of Kawaguchi, are still closed but may reopen by Monday.
The board said 38 pupils at the elementary school and 86 students at the junior high school in the village of Yamakoshi will resume classes Monday in borrowed classrooms at a school in Nagaoka.
The entire village, which was virtually flattened by the Oct. 23 quakes, was evacuated and there is no chance that anyone will return there in the near future, the board said.
Germany helps out
Germany on Thursday offered to extend $50,000 in emergency humanitarian aid for the survivors of a series of earthquakes that have hit Niigata Prefecture and nearby areas along the Sea of Japan coast, Japanese officials said.
The German government said the money will be earmarked for building temporary residences for quake survivors, the officials said. Many residents have evacuated due to damage to their homes or fear their houses might collapse as a result of the continuing temblors.
German Ambassador to Japan Henrik Schmiegelow described the humanitarian assistance as an expression of Germany’s sense of togetherness with the victims and proof of the close friendship between the people of the two countries, they said.
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