Japan earthquake

9 killed as strong quake strikes Japan, nuclear sites safe

Tokyo: A powerful earthquake struck the southwestern Japanese island of Kyushu on Thursday, killing nine people, collapsing roads and buildings, knocking out power and shutting down factories, officials said.

According to the government, at least 1,000 people had been treated for injuries caused by the magnitude 6.2 quake, which struck just before 9:30 pm Thursday and was followed by a series of powerful aftershocks.

More 130 aftershocks had been recorded on the island and about 40,000 people spent the night outdoors or in temporary shelters.

Television footage showed firefighters battling flames in the most seriously affected area, in the town of Mashiki in rural Kumamoto prefecture.

The fires had been extinguished by Friday morning, as residents began to assess the extent of the damage. Some homes had collapsed into rubble, with tiles from broken roofs spilling onto narrow streets.

The authorities in Kumamoto said they had pulled several people from under collapsed buildings, according to NHK, the national broadcast network. Television reports showed the rescue of an infant, alive and apparently uninjured.

The earthquake knocked an out-of-service Shinkansen bullet train off its rails, JR Kyushu Railway reported. No one was hurt, the railway said. Television images also showed cracked and buckled roadways.

The Japan Meteorological Agency had reported the quake’s preliminary magnitude at 6.5, strong but not at the top of the range for seismically unstable Japan.

Some of Japan’s biggest firms including Sony and Toyota shut down operations in southern Japan after the region’s deadly earthquake, but analysts said while the economy could be affected, the impact would be far less than previous disasters.

With widespread damage to infrastructure, several companies — including in the steel, auto and technology sectors — said they had temporarily ceased production.

Exporter giants Toyota, Honda and Sony were carrying out safety checks to assess possible damage to plants and those of suppliers.

Other firms shutting down included Mitsubishi Electric, Renesas and Fujifilm as well as tyre maker Bridgestone and beverage titan Suntory Holdings.

Sony shares ended down more than three percent, Toyota lost 1.1 percent and Honda was off one percent while Bridgestone lost 0.5 percent.

However, the broader Nikkei stock index ended just 0.4 percent lower, with some of the losses also attributable to profit-taking after a strong rally this week.

Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Motoo Hayashi told reporters that there had not been the devastation that tore into northern Japan after the 2011 quake.

“There are some companies that have stopped operations, but so far I’ve received no reports of huge impact such we had” in the March, 2011 quake, he said, according to Jiji Press.

That quake unleashed a deadly tsunami that swallowed schools and entire neighbourhoods, killing more than 18,000 people.

The earthquake that struck northeastern Japan in 2011, unleashing a powerful tsunami, measured 9.0. That disaster led to reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant that released radiation in the most dangerous nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The earthquake on Thursday was centered on land, unlike the offshore quake five years ago, and its origin point was a relatively shallow 6 miles below the surface.

As a result, there was no tsunami, but the shaking near the epicenter was especially strong.

In Mashiki, groups of people gathered in parking lots, parks and other open spaces after fleeing their homes. At a community center where some spent the night, workers dispensed blankets and emergency food rations.

In Kumamoto, a city of about 700,000 that is just a few miles to the west of Mashiki, damage to buildings and other infrastructure appeared to be comparatively light. A section of the stone wall surrounding the city’s black castle, whose fortifications date from the 15th century, collapsed.

Kyushu is home to the only Japanese nuclear power that remained in operation following the mass shutdown of the atomic-power industry in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

The Kyushu Electric Power Co. reported no problems at the two reactors at the facility, the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant, which is about 75 miles southwest of Mashiki.

Key facts about the deadly earthquake in Japan:

 THE QUAKE: A magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck at 9:26 p.m. Thursday at a depth of 11 kilometers (7 miles).
 WHERE: The epicenter was near Kumamoto, a city of 740,000 people on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands.
 DEATHS AND INJURIES: Nine have been confirmed dead, and more than 800 injured, including 53 seriously.
 HARDEST-HIT AREA: Town of Mashiki, 15 kilometers (9 miles) east of Kumamoto city. Eight of the dead were from Mashiki.
 DAMAGE: Widespread and still being assessed. Houses have collapsed, roads buckled, shelves toppled in offices and stores.
 AFTERSHOCKS: More than 100 strong enough to be felt. Sizeable aftershocks could last for a week.

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