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Japanese earthquake kills 1, injures 381
Updated: 2005-03-20 20:30

A powerful magnitude-7.0 earthquake struck off the coast of southern Japan on Sunday, killing one person and injuring at least 381 others, damaging buildings and jolting residents with a series of strong aftershocks.

The temblor, which hit west of Kyushu Island at 10:53 a.m. local time, was centered at an unusually shallow depth of 5.5 miles below the ocean floor, the Japanese Meteorological Agency said. Aftershocks followed — at least one a magnitude-4.2 quake.

Rescue workers inspect a damaged house on tiny island of Genkai in Fukuoka after a powerful earthquake rattled southern Japan Sunday, March 20, 2005. The magnitude-7.0 earthquake struck off the coast of southern Japan, injuring at least 155 people, damaging buildings and leaving residents shaken as aftershocks continued. Authorities issued a tsunami warning that was later canceled. [AP]

Officials reported water and gas main breaks and power blackouts. Local and bullet train railway service was halted, after an automatic safety mechanism was triggered by the tremors, public broadcaster NHK television reported. Telephone service in the southern prefecture was jammed.

Minutes after the shaking began, the agency warned of the possibility of 20-inch tsunami waves triggered by the seismic activity. Such waves can grow to towering heights as they approach land, and authorities cautioned residents near the water to move to higher ground. But an hour after the quake, the agency said there was no danger of tsunami.

"There may be some disturbance of the ocean's surface, but we aren't worried about tsunami damage," said Masahiro Yamamoto of the Meteorological Agency. He predicted strong aftershocks measuring up to magnitude-6 would continue.

A 75-year-old woman, who was hospitalized after a wall fell on her in southern Fukuoka city, became the first reported casualty of the quake, the Kyodo News agency said.

At least 381 people, most in hard-hit Fukuoka prefecture, were injured by the quake, some struck by toppling cabinets, items falling off shelves or shattered glass, and two were burned by a cooking stove, NHK reported.

Authorities in Fukuoka, 560 miles southwest of Tokyo, have confirmed 107 injuries, 15 of them serious, according to the prefectural government's Web site. Ten people in neighboring Saga prefecture were injured, a prefectural government official said.

In Saga prefecture's Okawa city, a 56-year-old man suffered broken bones after trying to jump to safety from the second floor of his home, NHK said. One person was reportedly rescued after being pinned inside a collapsed home.

"We have had frightened residents coming to the store because their own homes are shaking with every aftershock," said Shigeru Harada, a manager at a convenience store in Fukuoka city.

Located along the Pacific Ocean's seismically active "Ring of Fire," Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries.

It is also one of the best prepared for a major quake. Tough requirements making buildings quake-safe and frequent disaster drills likely kept injuries and structural damage to a minimum in Sunday's temblor.

About 1,000 residents in Fukuoka prefecture evacuated their homes to stay in temporary shelters for the evening, including some 400 residents of Genkai island — nearly half of the population of the tiny island off the coast of Kyushu.

Homes on the island collapsed and roofs caved in, and village officials requested emergency help from Japanese troops, NHK television reported.

A Fukuoka prefectural police spokesman said the initial jolt, which lasted about 30 seconds, made it difficult to stand.

NHK showed tall office buildings and street lamps in the center of Fukuoka, nearest the epicenter, shaking violently. In residential areas, cracks appeared in sidewalks and parts of retaining walls flaked off.

Authorities warned of landslides around Fukuoka, Saga and Nagasaki prefectures.

Kyushu Island is separated from South Korea by a narrow strait of water, and the quake was felt about 130 miles away in South Korea's port city of Busan, where it briefly shook buildings. No damage was immediately reported, a police spokesman in Busan said.

A magnitude-7 quake can cause tremendous damage in populated areas, either directly or by triggering tsunami, which are distinguished from normal coastal surf by their great length and speed.

On Oct. 23, a magnitude-6.8 earthquake struck Niigata, about 160 miles northwest of Tokyo, killing 40 people and damaging more than 6,000 homes. The jolt was the deadliest to hit Japan since 1995, when a magnitude-7.3 quake killed 6,433 people in the western city of Kobe.

On Dec. 26, a 9.0-magnitude quake triggered a massive tsunami that devastated Asian and African coastlines in nearly a dozen nations, killing at least 175,000 people.

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