KASHIWAZAKI, Japan - A strong earthquake struck northwestern Japan
on Monday, destroying hundreds of homes, buckling seaside bridges and causing a
fire at one of the world's most powerful nuclear power plants. At least seven
people were killed and hundreds were injured.
Rescue workers are pictured at a collapsed house in
Kashiwazaki, July 16, 2007. A strong earthquake killed at least four
people in Japan on Monday, injured more than 400, flattened houses and
started a small fire at the world's largest nuclear power plant, Japanese
media and officials said. [Reuters]
The quake, which left fissures 3 feet wide in the ground along the coast, hit
shortly after 10 a.m. local time and was centered off Niigata state. Buildings
swayed 160 miles away in Tokyo. Sirens wailed in Kashiwazaki, a city of about
90,000, which appeared to be hardest hit.
Japan's Meteorological Agency measured the quake at a 6.8 magnitude. The U.S.
Geological Survey, which monitors quakes around the world, said it registered
"I was so scared - the violent shaking went on for 20 seconds," Ritei
Wakatsuki, who was on her job in a convenience store in 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.
Tsunami warnings were issued along the coast of Niigata but later lifted.
A series of smaller aftershocks rattled the area, including one with a 5.8
magnitude. The Meteorological Agency warned that the aftershocks could continue
for a week.
The quake hit on Marine Day, a national holiday in Japan, when most people
would have been at home.
Four women and three men - all either in their 70s or 80s - were killed,
according to the National Police Agency in Tokyo and NHK, the national
broadcaster. NHK reported more than 800 people were hurt, with injuries
including broken bones, cuts and bruises.
Nearly 300 homes in Kashiwazaki - a city known mainly for its fishing
industry - were destroyed and some 2,000 people evacuated, officials said.
A ceiling collapsed in a gym in Kashiwazaki where about 200 people had
gathered for a badminton tournament, and one person was hurt, Kyodo reported.
The quake also knocked a train car off the rails while it was stopped at a
station. No one was injured.
Several bullet train services linking Tokyo to northern and northwestern
Japan were suspended.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe - whose ruling party is trailing in the polls -
interrupted a campaign stop in southern Japan for upcoming parliamentary
elections, rushed back to Tokyo and announced he would head to the damaged area.
He later arrived in a blue uniform to survey the damage.
"Many people told me they want to return to their normal lives as quickly as
possible," Abe told reporters in Kashiwazaki. "The government will make every
effort to help with recovery."
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