Nagano quake injury toll hits 44, over 140 homes destroyed

Kyodo, AP

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Nagano Prefecture on Monday to survey damage from the strong earthquake that injured 44 people and heavily damaged or destroyed 141 houses there over the weekend.

Abe took a Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter to the village of Hakuba in the north of the prefecture, which suffered extensive damage in the magnitude-6.7 earthquake.

He met with residents who took shelter and inspected homes that collapsed in the Saturday night quake.

At the village’s municipal office, Abe was briefed on the situation by Nagano Gov. Shuichi Abe.

“The government will support the rebuilding of homes because it will get colder and colder from now,” Abe told reporters after surveying the damage.

On Sunday, the government’s Earthquake Research Committee said the quake, which originated at a depth of around 5 km, was likely caused by activity along the Kamishiro fault.

The agency revised the magnitude and depth from initial estimates. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded a magnitude of 6.2. Since the quake occurred inland, there was no tsunami.

The fault is part of the much longer Itoigawa-Shizuoka Tectonic Line, which is an active fault that runs through the middle of Honshu from north to south.

The quake struck at 10:08 p.m. It knocked down dozens of homes in the most affected areas, leaving some residents trapped under collapsed buildings. It also caused landslides and damaged roads.

Damage to the mountainous area, which hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics, proved more extensive than initially anticipated.

Ryo Nishino, a restaurant owner in Hakuba, a ski resort village west of Nagano, told NHK that he had “never experienced a quake that shook so hard. The sideways shaking was enormous.” He said he was in the restaurant’s wine cellar when the quake struck, but nothing broke there.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority said no abnormalities were reported at three nuclear power plants in the affected areas. All of Japan’s nuclear plants remain offline following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that sent three reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant into meltdown.

The hardest-hit area appeared to be Hakuba, which hosted events in the 1998 Winter Games. At least 43 homes were destroyed there, and 17 people were injured, national and local disaster agencies said. Another seven homes were lost in Otari, a nearby village to the north.

Nonresidential buildings were also destroyed, with officials assessing the extent.

Television footage showed buildings in various states of collapse, some flattened and others leaning to one side, and deep cracks in the roads. A landslide spilled onto a railroad track, forcing service to stop. About 200 people from Hakuba and Otari evacuated to shelters.

Shigeharu Fujimori, a Nagano Prefecture disaster management official, said it was fortunate that there weren’t any deaths reported despite the extent of the damage.

More than 20 people trapped under collapsed houses were rescued, according to the National Police Agency. Television footage showed police going house to house on Sunday morning, calling out to make sure that inhabitants were accounted for.

“The hardest-hit area was in the mountains and sparsely populated, where neighbors have a close relationship and help each other,” Fujimori said. “So I don’t think anyone has been forgotten or left isolated.”

The quake was followed by more than 60 aftershocks, and Meteorological Agency official Yohei Hasegawa urged residents to watch out for landslides.

The area was struck by a magnitude-6.7 earthquake the day after the huge March 2011 quake.