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Gas odor detected in central Fukuoka as giant sinkhole opens up in main road

A sinkhole in front of JR Hakata Station in Hakata Ward, Fukuoka, is seen in this photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter on Nov. 8, 2016. (Mainichi)

FUKUOKA -- A massive sinkhole opened up on a main thoroughfare in front of JR Hakata Station here early on Nov. 8, spreading the smell of gas in the area.

A large portion of the road in Hakata Ward, Fukuoka, caved in with a deafening crash. The sinkhole slowly expanded, claiming traffic lights and other objects nearby. Authorities sealed off the area and banned entry into nearby buildings. Electric power and gas to the area has been cut, throwing the office district into chaos.

The 42-year-old manager of a convenience store near the scene said he rushed to his store after learning of the incident.

"I was contacted by an employee at around 5:30 a.m., who told me there was a power blackout followed by a huge noise," the manager said. "My store is usually crowded with people buying breakfast and other items, but it's effectively closed now because traffic on the street in front of the store has been restricted."

A 53-year-old office cleaner who works at a building near the scene told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I'd been on the job since around 6:30 a.m. I escaped after a building security guard told me to flee because the cave-in posed a danger. The sinkhole was spreading, so I'm worried that buildings could collapse," she said.

As there is a strong gas odor in the area, police officers told passers-by not to use lighters.

A 36-year-old employee of a nursing care-related company said, "We've been told to leave our office because there are concerns that leaking gas could trigger an explosion. I can't do my work unless I go back to my office and use my computer."

One 53-year-old, whose office is housed in a building just in front of the road that caved in, said a work-related meeting was cancelled because of the incident.

"The building caretaker told me that the sinkhole gradually spread from around 4 a.m. I went into the building to get my things, but I sensed danger because of the odor of gas. I told my colleagues to leave the office," he said.

A power blackout also contributed to the confusion. "My office is on the eighth floor of the building. The elevator has stopped because of the power blackout and the toilet can't be flushed," said Makoto Hayashida, 45, who works for a nearby travel agency. "I want utilities to be restored as early as possible," he said.

A 51-year-old software company employee said he can enter the building where his office is, but lamented that an in-house computer network system connected with key offices in Kobe is down.

"I can't communicate with other divisions within the company, so our work is largely stalled. There's no prospect that the system will be resumed anytime soon," he said.

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