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.
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 6.7.
“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, campaigning in southern Japan for parliamentary elections later this month, was to return to Tokyo to deal with the quake, and the government had set up a task force, reports said.
“We want to do all we can to ensure safety … and to quell everyone’s concerns,” he said.
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 Kobe.
Associated Press writers Kozo Mizoguchi and Chisaki Watanabe in Tokyo contributed to this report.
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