Four killed after magnitude 7.4 quake strikes northeast Japan

March 17, 2022

A powerful overnight earthquake that rattled northeastern Japan has killed at least four people and injured more than 140, while causing extensive damage to transportation networks that could take weeks to recover, authorities said Thursday.

The magnitude 7.4 quake, which struck shortly before midnight on Wednesday and revived memories of the March 11, 2011, disaster, caused the derailment of a shinkansen bullet train and closed at least one major highway to the region for safety checks.

Parts of Tokyo lost power immediately after the quake, though most regained it within three hours. But some 36,400 households serviced by Tohoku Electric Power Co. in northeast Japan remained without electricity Thursday morning.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters early Thursday that no abnormalities had been found so far at nuclear plants in affected areas.

A tsunami warning for waves of up to a meter in parts of northeast Japan was lifted in the early hours of Thursday, after authorities recorded water levels up to 30cm higher than usual in some areas.

Multiple smaller jolts continued to hit the region throughout the night and morning on Thursday.

Collapsed houses in Kunimi, Fukushima Prefecture, on Thursday after a powerful quake struck Japan's northeast overnight. | KYODO
Collapsed houses in Kunimi, Fukushima Prefecture, on Thursday after a powerful quake struck Japan’s northeast overnight. | KYODO

“We’re doing our best to assess the extent of the damage,” top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters overnight. “Major aftershocks often happen a couple of days after the first quake, so please stay away from any collapsed buildings … and other high-risk places,” he added.

The temblor, which came two minutes after a magnitude 6.1 quake, registered an upper 6 on Japan’s seven-level seismic intensity scale in parts of Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, the meteorological agency said.

At an intensity of upper 6, many people find it impossible to remain standing or move without crawling. The jolts are strong enough to toss people through the air, according to the agency.

The quake, which occurred in waters off Fukushima at a depth of about 57 kilometers, was also felt across a wide swath of the country. The agency is warning of quakes of a similar scale in hard-hit areas for the next week or so.

A Tohoku Shinkansen train with about 100 passengers on board derailed between Fukushima Station and Shiroishizao Station, but no injuries were reported, according to the East Japan Railway Co. (JR East). Officials said they were still not sure when the shinkansen services could be resumed on the derailed portion.

Fire departments in Miyagi and Fukushima received numerous calls requesting emergency assistance, and reports have emerged of many people suffering injuries in the coastal city of Soma in Fukushima.

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