No major damage reported after magnitude 5.8 quake in Hokkaido

AP, Kyodo, Staff Report

Four people were injured and hundreds of others left stranded in train carriages and at an airport early Friday after a magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit Hokkaido the previous night.

While no major damage was reported from the quake, which struck at 9:22 p.m. Thursday, more than 100 households suffered a temporary water outage in the hardest-hit town of Atsuma, which was already devastated by a major quake last September. Transportation services were disrupted elsewhere and there were reports of small-scale avalanches.

Two women and two men in Tomakomai and Sapporo sustained minor injuries after falling during the quake.

Some 680 people were temporarily stranded in train carriages on Hokkaido Railway Co.’s Chitose Line and about 170 people were forced to spend the night at New Chitose Airport, the region’s main international gateway.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday the government has yet to confirm whether any major landslides or avalanches resulted from the quake.

Hokkaido Electric Power Co. said it has found no irregularities at its Tomari nuclear power plant in western Hokkaido.

“I was anxious because I didn’t know when I would be able to return home,” said Takahiro Shibuya, 17, who was waiting for his mother to pick him up at Shimamatsu Station in the city of Eniwa.

The high school student from Chitose said he was on his way home from a cram school in Sapporo when the trains stopped, leaving him and his fellow passengers stranded for about four hours.

Hokkaido Railway Co. canceled 58 train services Friday as it carried out track safety checks.

At New Chitose Airport, people huddled under blankets distributed by airport staff.

“Bus services from the airport to Sapporo had ended, and I couldn’t wait for a taxi for hours in the sub-zero temperatures,” said Manami Imano, 35, who was on a business trip from Tokyo.

In September, Hokkaido was hit by a magnitude 6.7 quake that claimed more than 40 lives and injured about 760 people, as well as cutting power to millions of homes across the region. The town of Atsuma was hit by deadly landslides triggered by the quake.

“I could not stop shaking thinking about the previous quake,” said Atsuma resident Eiko Nakaya, 71, as she received food and water from local authorities.

An official from the Meteorological Agency said at a separate news conference late Thursday that the epicenter of Thursday’s quake was about 10 km north of September’s quake.

The agency and experts said Thursday’s quake was most likely an aftershock. Takashi Furumura, a professor of seismology at the University of Tokyo, said the two quakes’ “mechanisms were also similar.”

“There’s no need for excessive worry, but caution is needed if quakes start to occur in other areas,” he said.

Koshun Yamaoka, a professor of seismology at Nagoya University, also urged caution.

“An aftershock of the latest one could follow, so we need to be prepared for quakes of the same intensity for up to 10 days,” Yamaoka said.

“I was alone at home and it was very scary. I’m worried that another big quake might come,” said Yasuko Tsuzuki, a 73-year-old woman living in Atsuma, following the latest quake.

Tsuzuki said the lights at her home briefly went out and that she tried to evacuate in the darkness.

Japan is one of the most earthquake- and tsunami-prone countries in the world. On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 offshore quake hit the northeast coast, causing a tsunami that claimed more than 18,000 lives and triggered a nuclear disaster.

Quake information in English can be viewed at the Meteorological Agency’s website: