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'Great' 8.0 Quake Hits Japanese Island

The large temblor hurts 246 people, forces a mass evacuation and cuts power to many homes.

September 26, 2003|From Times Wire Services

TOKYO — Japan's northern island of Hokkaido was rocked today by the strongest earthquake of the year, a magnitude 8.0 temblor that injured at least 246 people, forced the evacuation of 41,000 others and blacked out 16,000 homes.

The quake was followed by two strong aftershocks and several small tsunamis. Waves measuring up to 3 feet in height reportedly washed away some empty cars on the eastern Hokkaido coast, but no major wave damage was reported.

In the single reported fatality related to the earthquake, a 61-year-old man cleaning up broken beer bottles on a street was hit by a car and died, Hokkaido police said.

Police officials reported that at least 246 people were hurt, most of them by broken glass or falling objects in homes. Officials said at least 18 people suffered serious injuries, but most had minor cuts and bruises.

The quake struck at 4:50 a.m. and was centered in the Pacific about 60 miles off Hokkaido's eastern shore and about 26 miles under the seabed. Japan's Central Meteorological Agency initially estimated the quake's magnitude at 7.8 but later revised that to 8.0, which classifies the temblor as a "great" quake.

A powerful 7.0 aftershock followed shortly after 6 a.m., and another hit about 8 a.m.

The government warned residents to avoid coastal areas because of the possibility of tsunamis, or ocean waves caused by seismic activity.

The meteorological agency said a tsunami of about 4 feet had struck Kushiro, a city of about 200,000 that appeared to be the worst hit. There were no immediate reports of damage.

"It shook hard and long and I was very frightened," said Eri Takizawa, a city official in Kushiro.

Because of the threat of waves, aftershocks or the collapse of damaged buildings, 41,000 people were evacuating to local shelters, said Kazukiko Kunii, a spokesman for the National Fire Agency.

Hiroaki Tanaka, a Kushiro fire department official, said: "The situation seems to be settling down. Aftershocks seem to be lessening. Injuries could rise, though."

Huge cracks forced the closure of local highways, and regional airports were closed for inspection.

Hokkaido Electric Power Co. said the quake triggered an automatic shutdown of its Tomato-Atsuma thermal power station in Atsuma and caused a blackout in nearby communities. An official said it was unclear when power could be restored.

Nuclear power facilities on Hokkaido were inspected, but officials said there was no evidence of damage.

A fire broke out at an oil tank in the city of Tomakomai, but it was contained within three hours, said Hokkaido prefectural police official Kuniyoshi Omori.

Omori said one person was injured when a local train carrying about 39 passengers derailed. Kushiro airport was temporarily closed after part of a roof caved in, and several roads were blocked by landslides.

On average, there is one "great" quake in the world a year, U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Brian Lassige said from Golden, Colo. The amount of energy released in a magnitude 8 earthquake is equivalent to that contained in 1.01 billion tons of TNT, according to the USGS.

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