SAPPORO – Hokkaido residents on Thursday recalled being woken by a large, sudden upthrust followed by a long round of shaking just after 3 a.m., and said they were concerned about scores of continuing aftershocks in the region.
“It messed up my entire house. I’ve never experienced an earthquake like this,” said an 87-year-old man in the town of Atsuma, near the epicenter of the magnitude 6.7 quake. He said he had to hurl himself against the door to get out of his house because it was bent by the quake and would not open.
“The shaking was so widespread that I couldn’t even prepare to flee,” said a 55-year-old woman in the town. She said the quake was so violent that it left her home without water and caused the chimney to break off and land on her vehicle.
The quake, which maxed out at 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale, triggered simultaneous landslides at a number of mountains in Atsuma, leaving hillsides bare as soil and trees engulfed residential areas and farmland.
Images taken from a Self-Defense Forces helicopter showed roads that had buckled, sunk or been blocked by landslides. They also showed trees and soil that had slid into a dam.
At the site of a landslide in the town, dozens of rescuers were searching for missing people and using heavy equipment to remove earth and sand.
Hisao Hatashima, 54, whose parents, in their 80s, were listed among the missing, said he had talked with them the previous day. “I didn’t imagine something like this would happen just a day later,” he said in tears.
Foreign residents said they were dealing with the disaster as best they could.
“I could hear the earthquake,” Canadian English teacher Jinkyung Yeo, 27, wrote in a message to The Japan Times. Yeo, who lives in Sapporo’s Chuo Ward, teaches English at one of the city’s top public high schools. She came to Japan in early August.
Amid a prefecture-wide blackout, Yeo was concerned about further disruptions to lifeline services including water and transportation.
“No electricity, no guarantee that water will continue, and cell towers might go out soon,” she said. “Electricity problem is making everyone panic.”
She said there were huge lines at grocery and convenience stores, including one more than a block long. She said she “filled the tub with extra water and got whatever snacks I could from Secoma,” a local convenience store.
“Nothing is open and working, if I hadn’t withdrawn cash last night, I would’ve been in big trouble,” she said.
Yeo’s parents, who were visiting at the time of the quake, are likely to miss their flight home, given that New Chitose Airport took damage to its terminals and canceled all flights for the rest of the day.
“I wish at least the data/cell tower situation was reliable, so I could reach out to friends and other family who are wondering where I am,” she wrote.
American Emily Schuster, a Sapporo resident of about five years whom The Japan Times reached via Facebook, said her neighborhood was struck by power outages and other inconveniences as well.
Schuster was alone in her house when the quake struck. She recalled a blaring quake alert on her phone and her “whole house shaking and things falling off of shelves.” The quake also terrified her cat, which fled into a closet, she added.
She said she had power just long enough to turn on the TV and check for tsunami.
“We are still experiencing pretty regular tremors as well — I’m super tired after staying up with the typhoon the previous night, and now the earthquake this morning, but every time I think I might fall asleep, we get another shake and I am scared awake,” she said.
Schuster, who works for Sapporo International Communications Plaza, which is affiliated with the Sapporo Municipal Government, said she would be working a night shift Thursday as her team is in charge of putting out multilingual notices and dispatching staff during disasters. She added that all evacuation sites in Sapporo have been opened and that there were areas providing water.
Workers and officials have scrambled to restore power to the prefecture by restarting the power plants, which were brought to an emergency halt.
The government and Hokkaido Electric Power Co. said the massive blackout, covering all 2.95 million households in the prefecture, was caused because the halt of the Tomato Atsuma thermal power plant in the town of Atsuma created a supply and demand imbalance.
Later in the day, a thermal power plant in the city of Sunagawa resumed power, Hokkaido Electric said.
The halt of the utility that produces nearly half of the prefecture’s electricity has destabilized power supply frequency and forced other thermal plants to come to an emergency halt, they said.
In Sapporo, the prefectural capital, the traffic lights had gone dark and police officers were seen directing traffic by hand.
“I was woken up by the large quake. The elevator of my apartment stopped and I had to flee by the stairs to the first floor,” said a 32-year-old man in the city.
Six public hospitals in the city have stopped accepting patients due to blackout, while some institutions in nearby Tomakomai and Chitose were also closed.
“We can only use minimal equipment and cannot accept emergency patients or outpatients,” said a staffer at Tomakomai hospital, adding that the facility was now relying on private power generation.
All trials scheduled for the day at Sapporo’s courts were also canceled, while the Sapporo Securities Exchange halted all trading and said it does not know when it will resume.
“We cannot reach the Sapporo bourse through landline phones and officials are exchanging information via mobile phone,” said an official at the Tokyo Stock Exchange, which provides trading services to the Hokkaido exchange.