New earthquake hits Japan as death toll rises

Seven dead and 600 injured in quakes

16th July 2007
Daily Mail

A 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck off the Japanese coast today, the U.S. Geological Survey reported, hours after another quake of similar strength killed at least seven people in Japan and triggered a small leak of radioactive materials from a nuclear plant.

Reuters witnesses in Tokyo reported buildings swayed in the city after the latest quake at 1417 GMT, but there were no immediate reports of damage after the deep quake.

Fire sirens could be heard in hard-hit Kashiwazaki city earlier, and older buildings were reduced to piles of lumber. National broadcaster NHK reported more than 600 people were hurt, with injuries including broken bones, cuts and bruises.

A worker walks along a shredded road after the earthquake tore through

News footage shows smoke from the fire at the nuclear reactor earlier today

Six people in their 70s and 80s - four women and two men - died after being crushed when buildings collapsed on them in the quake, said officials with the National Police Agency in Tokyo.

The area was plagued by a series of aftershocks, the strongest of which was magnitude 5.8. There were no immediate reports of additional damage or injuries from the aftershocks, which triggered no tsunami warnings.

Half of this hillside has come away

"I was so scared - the violent shaking went on for 20 seconds," Ritei Wakatsuki, an employee of convenience store Lawson, told The Associated Press by telephone from Kashiwazaki. "I almost fainted by the fear of shaking."

Flames and billows of black smoke poured from the Kashiwazaki nuclear plant - the world's largest in terms of power output capacity - which automatically shut down during the quake.

The fire, at an electrical transformer, was put out shortly after noon and there was no release of radioactivity or damage to the reactors, said Motoyasu Tamaki, a Tokyo Electric Power Co. official.

Some 2,200 people in the quake zone were evacuated from their homes, Niigata prefecture (state) official Takashi Takagi said. Getting food and water supplies to evacuation centers was a top concern, Governor Hirohiko Iizumida told reporters.

More than 300 buildings in the city were destroyed, according to city officials. The force of the quake buckled seaside roads and bridges, and one-meter (yard) wide fissures could been seen in the ground along the coastline.

Rescue workers dug through flattened buildings in hopes of pulling victims alive from the wreckage.

A woman cranes her neck to view a shack at its new angle

A man scrambles through wreckage to peer under the remains of a roof

A ceiling collapsed in a gym in Kashiwazaki where about 200 people had gathered for a badminton tournament, and one person suffered minor facial injuries, Kyodo reported. The quake also knocked a train car off the rails while it was stopped at a station. No one was injured.

The Meteorological Agency issued tsunami warnings along the coast of Niigata prefecture (state), but the warnings were later lifted. Waves as high as 50 centimeters (20 inches) were believed to have hit the coast, but no damage was reported.

The quake, which hit the region at 10:13 a.m. (0113GMT) was centered off the coast of Niigata, 260 kilometers (160 miles) northwest of the capital, Tokyo. The tremor made buildings in Tokyo sway and was also felt in northern and central Japan.

The agency initially measured the quake at a 6.6 magnitude, but later revised that up to 6.8. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake registered 6.7 magnitude.

A series of smaller aftershocks rattled the area, including one with a 5.8 magnitude. Koichi Uhira of the Meteorological Agency warned that the aftershocks could continue for a week.

East Japan Railway Co. said it expected to resume bullet train service linking Tokyo to northwestern Japan Monday evening once it has completed inspecting tracks for damage.

A train perches precariously on its side but appears otherwise undamaged

More than 60,000 homes in the quake zone were without water and 34,000 were without gas as of late Monday afternoon, Niigata's Takagi said. More than 25,000 households in the zone were without power, he added.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe interrupted a campaign stop in southern Japan for upcoming parliamentary elections, rushed back to Tokyo and announced he would head to the damaged area.

"We want to do all we can to ensure safety ... and to quell everyone's concerns," said Abe, whose ruling party is trailing in the polls. "I want to get a picture of what happened and also want everyone to feel a little bit more secure."

Niigata Airport, which had suspended flights shortly after the quake, resumed services after finding no damage, Kyodo said.

Japan sits atop four tectonic plates and is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries. The last major quake to hit the capital, Tokyo, killed some 142,000 people in 1923, and experts say the capital has a 90 percent chance of suffering a major quake in the next 50 years.

In October 2004, a magnitude-6.8 earthquake hit Niigata, killing 40 people and damaging more than 6,000 homes. It was the deadliest to hit Japan since 1995, when a magnitude-7.2 quake killed 6,433 people in the western city of Kobe.