Japan earthquake injures at least 39

By KOZO MIZOGUCHI

Associated Press

TOKYO – Japan’s strongest earthquake in five years struck a large region of the southwest on today, injuring at least 39 people, including three who were caught in landslides, and destroying buildings, homes and a Shinto shrine.

The 7.3-magnitude quake shook violently across nine prefectures at 1:30 p.m., knocking over people, shattering windows, collapsing shelves in stores and cutting off electricity to thousands of houses and businesses.

Japan’s National Police said 39 people were injured. A bridge collapsed and was washed away in Okayama and landslides were reported in 25 locations in the region. Nine houses were destroyed and 239 others damaged.

The quake was centered six miles beneath western Tottori prefecture, 315 miles southwest of Tokyo, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. A 7.0-magnitude quake is capable of causing heavy, widespread damage.

Kyodo News service reported that 47 people were injured, but officials could not immediately confirm that.

National television showed live footage of workers at an NHK broadcasting newsroom in Matsue city clutching desks as notebooks fell to the floor. A hanging lamp swung wildly back and forth. Elsewhere in the city, white foam from ceiling fire extinguishers set off by the quake rained down from balconies onto the streets.

In the hardest hit prefecture, Tottori, 28 people suffered minor injuries, 200 houses were damaged and roads were blocked at 17 locations because of cracks and landslides, prefectural officials said.

Tsuyochi Iwashita, a spokesman for the National Police Agency, said a Shinto shrine fell apart.

The injured included three people who were buried in landslides and rescued by civilians and local officials. Two of the victims were trapped inside their car. The third was a man who suddenly disappeared while working at a roadside construction site.

The quake was the strongest in Japan since the 7.2-magnitude temblor that struck Kobe on Jan. 17, 1995, killing 6,425 people and destroying 250,000 homes.

Today’s quake, however, hit the country’s much less populated Sea of Japan coast. The city closest to the epicenter was Yonago, an old castle town with a population of 134,000, compared with the Kobe area’s 1.5 million.

In Hinocho town, a small hospital shook so violently that the staff evacuated all 80 patients from the building to check it for damage.

“It was so strong that I couldn’t stand up,” said Shinichi Nagami, a government spokesman in the large city of Sakaiminato. Cracks appeared in the walls of some of the buildings there. At the local port, a crane used to load ships collapsed when the force of the earthquake softened the landfill it stood on.

The earthquake triggered a rash of landslides across the large, hilly region, including one that blocked a railroad line and one that closed part of a two-lane highway.

The temblor was so strong that it was felt 155 miles away from the epicenter in Suzuka city, where drivers from around the world were practicing for the F-1 Grand Prix auto race on Sunday.

Two nuclear reactors in Tottori prefecture had recently been shut down for repairs before the quake struck.

Despite the strength of the quake, and many powerful aftershocks, no tsunami occurred in the Japan Sea, the meteorological agency said.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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