Big quake hits Japan island, leaves nine dead, 30 missing
SAPPORO: A powerful earthquake on Japan’s northern-most main island of Hokkaido triggered dozens of landslides that crushed houses under torrents of dirt, rocks and timber, prompting frantic efforts to unearth any survivors. At least nine people were killed, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. Officials said at least 366 were injured and about 30 people were unaccounted for after the magnitude 6.7 earthquake jolted residents from their beds at 3:08am. Nearly three million households were left without power by the quake the latest in an exhausting run of natural disasters for Japan. It paralysed normal business on the island, as blackouts cut off water to homes, immobilised trains and airports, causing hundreds of flight cancellations and shut down phone systems. In the town of Atsuma, where entire hillsides collapsed, rescuers used small backhoes and shovels to search for survivors under the tons of earth that tumbled down steep mountainsides, burying houses and farm buildings below. The area’s deep green hills were marred by reddish-brown gashes where the soil tore loose under the violent tremors. Twenty-eight people remained unaccounted for in the town, Atsuma Mayor Shoichiro Miyasaka told public broadcaster NHK. The landslides ripped through some homes and buried others. Some residents described awakening to find their next-door neighbours gone. “The entire thing just collapsed,” said one. “It’s unbelievable.” The island’s only nuclear power plant, which was offline for routine safety checks, temporarily switched to a backup generator to keep its spent fuel cool. Nuclear regulators said there was no sign of abnormal radiation a concern after a massive quake and tsunami in March 2011 that hit northeast Japan destroyed both external and backup power to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, causing meltdowns. The quake came on the heels of a typhoon that lifted heavy trucks off their wheels and triggered major flooding in western Japan, leaving the main airport near Osaka and Kobe closed after a tanker rammed a bridge connecting the facility to the mainland. The summer also brought devastating floods and landslides from torrential rains in Hiroshima and deadly hot temperatures across the country. As Japan’s northern frontier and a major farming region with rugged mountain ranges and vast forests, Hokkaido is an area accustomed to coping with long winters, isolation and other hardships. But the blackouts brought on by the quake underscored the country’s heavy reliance on vulnerable power systems: without electricity, water was cut to many homes, train lines were idled and phone systems out of order.