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Aftershocks strike fear after Japan quake kills 16
Updated: 2004-10-24 11:02

Aftershocks shook northern Japan on Sunday, a day after a powerful earthquake killed at least 16 people and injured about 1,000 as houses collapsed and landslides devastated a village, stranding hundreds of people.

Tens of thousands of fearful residents in the rural Niigata prefecture spent the night in evacuation centers or outdoors after the initial quake with a magnitude of 6.8 hit at 5:56 p.m. n Saturday.

As daylight broke, the full scale of the damage to the area, some 150 miles north of Tokyo, became evident.

Roads buckled, a bullet train was derailed, and many landslides hit the largely mountainous region.

Aerial pictures on television showed that a mudslide had engulfed houses, roads and cars in the small village of Yamakoshi, cutting off some about 600 residents.

TV showed soldiers in khaki uniforms trying to rescue a mother and a son trapped in a house wrecked by a landslide, using chain saws to cut their way through the rubble.

In the city of Ojiya, the apparent scene of much of the damage, a large area of land under a rail line had caved in, forming a crater-like hole and leaving train tracks dangling.

Elsewhere, the lopsided leading carriage of a bullet train rested on the side of its track, the first derailment since the high-speed service was introduced 40 years ago.

Eight carriages of the train derailed, but there were no injuries, a Transport Ministry official said.

"We are desperately in need of food, water and blankets for the local residents," said an official in Ojiya, which has a population of 40,000.

The quake knocked out power and phone services to at least 278,000 homes and water and gas services were disrupted.

Many residents huddled under blankets in schools and other temporary shelters while some spent the night outside or in cars as temperatures fell to around 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

More than 240 aftershocks that could be felt by humans had struck since the initial quake, the Meterological Agency said, and officials warned of further strong tremors.

The quake and aftershocks shook buildings in Tokyo but there were no reports of any injuries or major damage in the capital.


The dead in Niigata, a rice-growing region bordering the Sea of Japan, included an elderly woman who died of shock and a two-month-old infant, national broadcaster NHK reported.

Three children were killed when they were buried under collapsed houses, it said.

"We were preparing for a wedding party at the time. I found it hard to stand because the quake was so strong. Everyone went below the tables screaming," a hotel clerk told Kyodo news agency.

A total of 61,000 people were evacuated to schools and other public facilities, Kyodo said. Several fires broke out in Nagaoka, a city of 200,000, but most were extinguished quickly.

An expressway tunnel had collapsed, Jiji news agency said.

Media said the quake was the deadliest to hit the region since 1964, when 26 people were killed by a magnitude 7.5 quake.

There were no reports of significant damage to industry in the area, which includes chemical and textile manufacturing as well as electronics and food processing, although some factories had halted production as damage to roads and railways raised concerns about distribution bottlenecks.

The government set up a crisis center in Tokyo, as officials warned of more landslides in areas hit recently by heavy rains.

Japan has been lashed by a record 10 typhoons this year, including one that killed at least 80 people last week.

The quake's magnitude was measured according to a technique similar to the open-ended Richter scale but adjusted for Japan's geological characteristics.

Japan is one of the world's most seismically active areas, accounting for about 20 percent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude six or greater.

Memories are still vivid of an earthquake in the western city of Kobe that killed more than 6,400 people in 1995, measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale.

The last quake of 8.0 or higher in Japan was in 1994.

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