Sat, Apr 09, 2011 - Page 1 News List

Million homes lack power after new Japan earthquake

AP, SENDAI

Nearly 1 million homes suffered blackouts in Japan’s northeast yesterday after a strong aftershock that killed two people and piled more misery on a region buried under the rubble of last month’s devastating tsunami.

The northeastern coast was still reeling from the destruction wrought by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake on March 11, with tens of thousands of households without power or water. The new magnitude 7.1 tremor late on Thursday threw even more areas into disarray and sent communities that had made some gains back to square one.

Gasoline was scarce again, and long lines formed at stations. Stores that had only recently restocked their shelves sold out of basics yesterday and were forced to ration purchases again.

Still, the latest quake did far less damage, generated no tsunami and largely spared the region’s nuclear plants. Some slightly radioactive water spilled at one plant, but the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex reported no new problems.

Matsuko Ito, who has been living in a shelter in the small northeastern city of Natori since the tsunami, said there’s no getting used to the terror of being awoken by shaking. She said she started screaming when the quake struck around 11:30pm.

“It’s enough,” the 64-year-old while smoking a cigarette outside. “Something has changed. The world feels strange now. Even the way the clouds move isn’t right.”

The latest tremor — the strongest since the day of the tsunami — cut power to more homes, though it was quickly restored to many. About 950,000 households were still without electricity last evening, said Souta Nozu, a spokesman for Tohoku Electric Power, which serves northern Japan. That includes homes in prefectures in Japan’s northwest that had been spared in the first quake.

Six conventional plants in the area were knocked out, though three have since come back online and the others should be up again within hours, Nozu said. However, with power lines throughout the area damaged, it was not clear whether normal operations would be restored, he said.

In Ichinoseki, lines formed outside a supermarket when it opened yesterday morning. An employee with a flashlight escorted each customer around the store and jotted the price of each selected item in a pad.

Most businesses were closed in the city, 390km northeast of Tokyo. One restaurant owner, Suzuki Koya, bought a small gas stove and made free meals in big boiling pot.

“I saw the meat at the supermarket and I thought: ‘We should do a hot pot,’” the 47-year-old said. “It’s good to keep warm in times like these.”

Several nuclear power plants briefly switched to diesel generators, but were reconnected to the grid by yesterday afternoon. One plant north of Sendai briefly lost the ability to cool its spent fuel pools, but quickly got it back.

At a plant in Onagawa, some radioactive water splashed out of the pools but did not leave a containment building, Tohoku Electric said.

Such splash-out is “not unusual, although it is preferable that it doesn’t happen,” according to Japanese nuclear safety agency official Tomoho Yamada.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top