Powerful Quake Hits Northern Japan, At Least 20 Injured

SAPPORO, Japan (AP) -
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to journalists in Tokyo following a strong earthquake, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. (Yohei Fukai/Kyodo News via AP)

A powerful earthquake hit wide areas on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido early Thursday, triggering landslides as well as causing the loss of power at nearly all of 3 million households and a nuclear power plant to go on a backup generator.

A magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck southern Hokkaido at 3:08 a.m. Thursday (18:08 GMT Wednesday) at the depth of 24 miles, Japan’s Meteorological Agency said.

The quake’s epicenter was east of the city of Tomakomai. It also struck Hokkaido’s prefectural capital of Sapporo, with a population of 1.9 million.

The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude at 6.6. No tsunami warning was issued.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said a man was found without vital signs in Tomakomai, and several people were reported missing in the nearby town of Atsuma. At least 20 other people were injured in nearby towns, though their conditions were not immediately known.

Footage on NHK national tv showed the moment the quake struck Muroran, with its camera violently shaking and all city lights going out a moment later. In nearby Sapporo, a mudslide hit a road, leaving several cars half buried.

In the town of Atsuma, a massive landslide occurred on the side of a mountain, crushing houses at lower levels.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that the authorities have received hundreds of calls about people missing and buildings collapsing. Officials are doing their utmost for the search and rescue while they assess the extent of damage, he said.

The central government set up a crisis management taskforce at the Prime Minister’s Office, Suga said.

Three reactors at the Tomari nuclear plant were offline, but they are running on backup generators after losing external power because of the island-wide blackouts that also caused power loss at all 2.9 million households and disrupted traffic, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said. Spent fuel in storage pools was safely cooled on backup power that can last for a week, the agency said.

The 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan destroyed both external and backup power to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, causing meltdowns.

The earthquake also affected telephone service and broadcasting in Sapporo.