Strong earthquake kills one, destroys houses in Japan

A collapsed house in the aftermath of an earthquake is seen in Suzu, Ishikawa prefecture, Japan, May 5, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Photo: Reuters

A powerful earthquake struck central Japan on Friday, leaving at least one person dead and 21 injured, while collapsing a number of buildings.

The 6.5 magnitude quake hit the central Ishikawa region in mid-afternoon at a depth of 12 kilometres (seven miles), according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

Weather officials warned residents of possible aftershocks and landslides in the days ahead but said there was no risk of a tsunami.

“There was a big, long tremor that lasted about two minutes. I felt scared because the shaking went on and on,” a local government official in the city of Suzu, who declined to give her name, told public broadcaster NHK.

Government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters in the capital Tokyo that one person was reported dead and there were “multiple reports of collapsed buildings”.

The victim fell from a ladder, a crisis management official in Suzu told AFP, adding that 21 other people had been injured.

The local fire and disaster management agency said at least three structures had been destroyed with two people trapped inside.

One had been pulled from the debris and sent to hospital and rescuers were searching for the other.

NHK footage showed traditional wooden houses destroyed or tilting with broken windows and damaged roofs. In aerial shots, a mountain slope can be seen collapsed.

More quakes hit the region later in the day, including one of 5.8 magnitude at around 10:00 pm. Elsewhere a quake clocking 5.5 hit off the coast of the Aomori Prefecture in the wee hours of Saturday, the Japan Meteorological Agency reported.

Friday was a public holiday in Japan, part of a run of days off known as “Golden Week”, a time when many people travel for leisure or to visit family.

Shinkansen bullet trains were suspended between the cities of Nagano and Kanazawa, a popular tourist destination, but resumed less than two hours later, according to Japan Railway.

The quake registered an upper six on the Japanese Shindo seismic scale, which goes up to a maximum of seven.

The US Geological Survey put the magnitude at 6.2 and said it struck just off the coast, but Japan’s Meteorological Agency placed the epicentre on land.

Japanese disaster prevention minister Koichi Tani said there were reports of multiple landslides and some locals had taken refuge in evacuation shelters.

– ‘Ring of Fire’ –

Earthquakes are common in Japan, which sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.

However, Japan has strict construction regulations intended to ensure buildings can withstand strong quakes and routinely holds emergency drills to prepare for a major jolt.

A 6.9 magnitude quake struck a fishing village in the same region in 2007, injuring hundreds and damaging more than 200 buildings on the Noto peninsula.

The peninsula is a rural area on the Sea of Japan coast known for its natural scenery.

Japan is haunted by the memory of a massive 9.0 magnitude undersea quake off its northeast in March 2011, which triggered a tsunami that left around 18,500 people dead or missing.

The 2011 tsunami also sent three reactors into meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, causing the nation’s worst post-war disaster and the most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Matsuno said no abnormalities had been detected at the Shiga and Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plants in the area affected by Friday’s quake.



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