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9-year-old girl among dead after M6.1 quake shakes western Japan

A police officer stands at the scene where a girl was trapped under a wall surrounding a pool that collapsed on top of her, in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, on June 18, 2018. (Mainichi)

OSAKA -- A 9-year-old girl is among three confirmed dead after a 6.1-magnitude earthquake struck western Japan's Kansai region at around 8 a.m. on June 18.

"A wall fell on a girl I was going to school with," a student who had come running reported to a 70-year-old security guard standing at the entrance to Takatsuki Municipal Juei Elementary School in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, shortly after the quake.

According to the Takatsuki Municipal Board of Education, a 40-meter section of a 3.5-meter-tall wall around Juei elementary's pool had fallen onto the road students use to come to school, and the fourth-grade school girl had been caught beneath it.

Fearing that the girl was trapped under the rubble, six to seven adults including the security guard who had rushed to the scene and a nearby truck driver tried to lift the fallen cement blocks to rescue her, but they could not. The security guard called emergency services, and soon a team arrived to rescue the girl. They managed to remove the rubble, but she was bleeding and her body was limp.

"The adults held her in their arms and said, 'It's OK, it's OK' over and over again," the security guard said, his shoulders sagging.

In a residential area of Osaka's Higashiyodogawa Ward, a man was killed by falling cement blocks from roughly 2-meter-tall wall that collapsed in the temblor. According to his neighbors, he had been on his way to a community activity to watch over the students of the nearby Shinjo Elementary School. The man reportedly usually used a cane to move around as his legs were not in good health. Another man who was heading to the same activity said he called back to the man to check if he was all right, but got no reply. The second man suffered injuries to his legs.

"There was a big bang, and when I saw that the wall had collapsed, I knew that something serious had happened," a 74-year-old local woman said.

Meanwhile, at JR Osaka Station in Osaka's Kita Ward, where a seismic intensity of a lower 6 on the Japanese 7-level scale was recorded, a female station worker told the Mainichi Shimbun that the station attendants yelled, "Earthquake!" and everyone rushed to protect themselves. "I thought that finally an earthquake directly under (the city of Osaka) had come -- it was terrifying," she said.

"At first I thought it was an accident and grabbed the handrail," said a 17-year-old third-year high school student who had just arrived at Osaka Station on the train when the strong shaking began. "I still haven't been able to contact my family and I'm worried."

Meanwhile, passengers were stranded on a train for about 90 minutes after it came to a halt between Osaka and Shin-Osaka stations. A 57-year-old company employee from Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, who was on the train said, "The station staff led the passengers to Osaka Station along the tracks on foot."

Shinkansen bullet train lines have also been suspended, leading to widespread chaos. On a Tokaido Shinkansen Line train traveling through the Shiga prefectural town of Toyosato, the sound of the earthquake alert echoed through the train cars as the superexpress made an emergency stop. The train lost power, creating a stir among the passengers before they began rushing to contact others by mobile phone and check earthquake damage information.

Within the city of Osaka, classes were canceled at many of the city's roughly 400 public elementary, junior high and high schools. Students who had already arrived at their respective schools were temporarily evacuated to school grounds or elsewhere.

A 12-year-old first-year junior high school girl in Osaka's Joto Ward continued on her route to school once the shaking from the earthquake had subsided, but did not enter the building. She was then gathered with other students on the school field. She said some students were crying.

Elsewhere in Osaka Prefecture, a prefectural road in the Shimotanabe district of Takatsuki sustained serious damage, and the road was flooded. According to the Takatsuki Municipal Government, the leak appears to be from ruptured underground water pipes, and the water supply to local residences has been cut off. The city is currently hurrying to repair the damage.

(Japanese original by Haruka Ito, Yukinao Kin, Yoshitake Matsuura and Itsuo Tokubo, Osaka City News Department)

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