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Strong quake shakes Japan; two dead

Saturday, June 14, 2008

TOKYO -- A powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake rocked a rural area of northern Japan late Friday, killing at least two people, triggering landslides and reportedly knocking down a bridge. News reports said dozens of people were injured.

Two nuclear power plants in the area were undergoing inspections but there were no immediate reports of damage, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura. Electricity had been cut to about 29,000 households in the quake zone, he said. There was no danger of tsunami.

The 8:43 a.m. quake was centered about 280 miles north of Tokyo. It was felt as far away as the capital.

The government said 13 people had been injured, but reports gathered from local authorities showed dozens of people had been hurt.

Footage shot from media helicopters showed numerous landslides onto rural roads running along knots of mountains separated by long stretches of rice fields. The footage aired on national broadcaster NHK also showed a bridge that had collapsed.

National broadcaster NHK said four people were seriously injured while riding on a bus over a bridge when the quake hit.

"We must assess the situation as quickly possible and do utmost in our relief activities," said Machimura.

The meteorological agency issued a warning of a second quake, and a 5.6-magnitude aftershock hit the same area, but it was unclear whether the warning preceded the aftershock. Japan is experimenting with an earthquake warning system.

"A few items fell off the shelves, such as cosmetics and pottery tea cups," Minoru Takada, 41, manager of Seven-Eleven in Oshu, in Iwate prefecture, told The Associated Press. "There wasn't any panic."

Footage from the closest large city, Sendai, showed the force of the quake shook surveillance cameras for 30 seconds. NHK interviewed an official from Miyagi prefecture, where Sendai is located, who said he saw tiles coming off the roofs of some homes.

"It was scary. It was difficult to stand up," said Sachiko Sugihara, a convenience store worker in Oshu in a separate interview with NHK. "The TV fell over and the refrigerator shook."

Windows broke at a nursery school in the area and NHK said some teachers and children were injured, though it was unclear how seriously.

Sendai appeared largely unscathed.

"So far we have not received any reports of damage or injuries. Everything is normal," Hideki Hara, a police official in Sendai, told the AP. "Phone lines, water and electricity are all working right now."

Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone areas in the world. The most recent major quake in Japan killed more than 6,400 people in the city of Kobe in January 1995.


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