National

At least 26 injured in earthquake in Japan's northwest

Kyodo, Staff Report

At least 26 people were injured, including one seriously, after a magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck Japan’s northwestern region late Tuesday, causing landslides and power outages in some areas.

The quake hit Niigata Prefecture on Tuesday night, recording a maximum of upper 6 on the Japanese earthquake intensity scale of 7.

Seventeen people were injured in Yamagata Prefecture, four each in Niigata and Miyagi prefectures, and one in Ishikawa Prefecture, according to a Kyodo News tally Wednesday. There were no reports of missing people, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.

Landslides were reported in Murakami, Niigata Prefecture, and Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture. The Meteorological Agency warned of potential building collapse and more landslides as there is a chance additional similar quakes will hit Yamagata and Niigata prefectures over the following week, while rain is expected in part of the region Wednesday.

A man in his 30s in Tsubame, Niigata Prefecture, fell down and fractured a bone, according to local officials.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said more than 800 people in the affected region evacuated.

While many people returned home Wednesday, the Murakami Municipal Government told the elderly and others who may take longer to relocate to be prepared to evacuate because of the risk of landslides and other disasters triggered by the earthquake and rain.

All public elementary and junior high schools in Murakami and Tsuruoka were closed Wednesday.

Some vehicles were trapped in mud in parts of Tsuruoka, as the temblor caused soil liquefaction, and the roof over a sumo ring at an elementary school in the city collapsed, according to the local government.

Over 9,200 houses in Niigata and Yamagata prefectures were hit by power outages but electricity services were restored by 6:44 a.m., according to Tohoku Electric Power Co.

East Japan Railway Co. said the quake caused some delays to its bullet train services Tuesday, affecting around 10,000 people. Wednesday’s services began as normal.

Some highways and roads in Yamagata and Niigata prefectures were closed because of fallen rocks.

Airlines said the earthquake will not affect flights to and from the affected region Wednesday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said early Wednesday that no fires, major damage nor serious injuries have been reported.

The quake, which occurred at around 10:22 p.m. off the coast of Yamagata Prefecture, prompted the Meteorological Agency to issue tsunami advisories for coastal areas of Yamagata and Niigata prefectures and the Noto area in Ishikawa Prefecture. The agency estimated the possible tsunami’s height to be as much as 1 meter.

A 10-centimeter tsunami was reported at Niigata port just after midnight, but the Meteorological Agency lifted the tsunami advisories for all three prefectures at 1:02 a.m.

The city of Murakami, which experienced an upper 6 level of seismic intensity, set up 10 evacuation centers.

“I can’t believe I have experienced major quakes like this repeatedly in my life,” said Riki Yokota, an 81-year-old resident of Murakami, recalling surviving a big earthquake that struck Niigata Prefecture in 1964.

A strong earthquake jolted the prefecture and its vicinity in 2007 as well.

“I was so afraid I might not be able to escape” after a tsunami warning was issued, she said, after evacuating to a nearby junior high school with her daughter. She said she needs to use a walker.

At the school’s gymnasium, about 200 people, including elderly people and children, took shelter.

Two passengers and two crew members aboard a local train stopped in Murakami following the quake got out of the carriages and rushed to higher ground to get away from the coast.

“We were really afraid of a tsunami,” said an evacuee from the train on the JR Uetsu Line.

“I came to this shelter after fleeing to a shrine on higher ground with my three children,” said another evacuee, 40-year-old beautician Toshiko Togashi, after arriving at an evacuation center in Murakami. “I did not get lost because I took part in an annual emergency drill.”

It was the most powerful temblor in Japan since last Sept. 6, when a deadly quake registering 7 on the intensity scale rocked the town of Atsuma in Hokkaido.

Tuesday’s strong quake also hit Tsuruoka with a lower 6. A lower 5 was recorded in Yurihonjo, Akita Prefecture, in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, and in Nagaoka and Kashiwazaki in Niigata Prefecture.

The Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority said no abnormalities were reported at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear complex run by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. The complex’s seven units have been idled since March 2012.

Suga, who entered the Prime Minister’s Office after 10:40 p.m., said at an urgent press conference he had been informed that there are no problems at any of the nuclear plants in Japan.

The quake struck one year to the day after a magnitude 6.1 earthquake jolted Osaka Prefecture and killed six people.

The coastal region facing the Sea of Japan from Hokkaido to Niigata Prefecture has experienced similar big earthquakes in the past.

Shinji Toda, a professor of seismic geology at Tohoku University said, “Active faults are concentrated (around the area hit by the latest earthquake) and some of them likely moved.”

Toda pointed out that there are similarities in scale and mechanism between Tuesday’s quake and one that rocked Niigata in 2007.

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