Tue, Jul 17, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Seven die as earthquake hits Japan

AFP , KASHIWAZAKI, JAPAN

People look at two destroyed houses in Kashiwazaki, Japan, yesterday evening after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the region yesterday morning, killing seven and injuring hundreds.

PHOTO: AP

A powerful earthquake rocked Japan yesterday, killing seven people and injuring more than 750 and triggering a radiation leak at one of the world's biggest nuclear plants.

In the hardest-hit areas northwest of Tokyo, homes were reduced to rubble and a bridge was nearly cracked in two by the 6.8-magnitude mid-morning quake, which also sent small tsunami waves rolling into the Japanese coast.

Water containing a "small amount of radioactive material" leaked from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa facility, where a fire sent black smoke into the sky for hours following the killer jolt, a company spokesman confirmed.

"But the leakage is believed to be far below the levels that could affect the environment," said Shougo Fukuda, of Tokyo Electric, which operates the plant near the epicenter of the quake.

The plant is one of the largest in the world, with four reactors supplying power to the Tokyo region.

The firm said four reactors in operation stopped automatically but a fire broke out in the area supplying electricity.

As dozens of aftershocks struck throughout the day, thousands flocked to schools and other temporary shelters to spend the night and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe broke away from election campaigning to visit the scene.

At least 753 people were injured in Niigata while two others were still missing, local officials said.

Rescue workers were hunting for anyone buried alive in the wreckage after nearly 300 buildings were flattened by the quake, which shook skyscrapers in Tokyo more than 200km from the epicenter.

The four women and three men killed, all in their 70s or 80s, died from injuries sustained in the earthquake, according to the National Police Agency.

Niigata was hit by another earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale in 2004 that killed 67 people, most of them elderly who died in the days and weeks after the first tremor from stress and fatigue.

"Even though there was a big one three years ago, you just can't get used to these quakes," said Tetsuya Oda, a 17-year-old student.

The latest quake triggered 50cm tsunami waves and was followed by some 65 aftershocks, the meteorological agency said.

More than 300 buildings were completely destroyed and another 212 were partially damaged, according to the Fire and Disaster Management Agency.

Abe, dressed in a relief worker's uniform, headed to the scene by military helicopter, cutting short a campaign stop ahead of elections on July 29.

Abe, who is struggling in opinion polls, said he gave instructions to his government that "all possible measures be taken to ensure the safety of residents, secure lifelines to them and relieve their anxieties."

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