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Huge quake in Hokkaido leaves 7 dead, safety of 31 unknown

A building in the town of Abira, Hokkaido, is seen damaged by an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.7 that rocked Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido on Sept. 6, 2018. (Kyodo)

A powerful earthquake that hit the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido in the predawn hours of Sept. 6 left at least seven people dead, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

The temblor, which registered up to 7 on the 7-point Japanese intensity scale, occurred at around 3:08 a.m., triggering massive landslides in Atsuma in southern Hokkaido and other areas, damaging roads and other infrastructure in extensive areas and causing blackouts throughout the prefecture. Hokkaido Railway Co. (JR Hokkaido) has suspended services on all of its lines.

Seven people died in Mukawa and Shinhidaka in southern Hokkaido as well as in other areas, three people are in cardio-respiratory arrest and at least 31 people remain missing. At least 123 people were injured in Hokkaido, three of them seriously, according preliminary figures released by the prefectural government.

In response to a request from the Hokkaido Prefectural Government, the Defense Ministry dispatched 4,000 Self-Defense Forces (SDF) members to Atsuma and nearby areas for search and rescue operations. About 20 SDF helicopters and aircraft were also mobilized for the efforts. By 9 a.m., the rescue workers had saved five people from landslides in Atsuma, where the quake registered 7 on the Japanese scale. However, nine others were buried in mud while 14 others remain out of reach in the town.

The government set up a task force to respond to the disaster at 3:09 a.m. and held a meeting of Cabinet ministers concerned later in the day.

The Tomari Nuclear Power Plant is pictured in Tomari, Hokkaido, in this file photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun aircraft. (Mainichi)

"Some 4,000 members of the SDF have already begun rescue operations. The number will be increased to 25,000. I'd like you to grasp the details of the damage and do your best to rescue victims and save their lives," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at the meeting.

All thermal power stations automatically stopped following the magnitude-6.7 quake, according to Hokkaido Electric Power Co. A total of some 2.95 million households throughout the prefecture were left without power, but electricity was restored in some areas of the cities of Sapporo and Asahikawa.

Hokkaido Electric's Tomari Nuclear Power Plant in the village of Tomari in southwestern Hokkaido temporarily lost all external power, but six emergencies diesel generators at the power station produced enough electricity to cool nuclear fuel in storage pools. External power has reportedly been restored.

All three reactors at the atomic power station are offline, and no nuclear fuel is inside the cores.

However, a fire started in the No. 4 turbine at Tomato-Atsuma thermal power station, while there were steam leaks at the No. 1 and 2 units likely due to pipe damage. Repairs are expected to take some time. The power station situated near the quake epicenter generates roughly half the power the company supplies to its customers in the prefecture.

Operations at all five hydro-electric power plants in Hokkaido have been resumed. Hokkaido Electric will send electric power from these hydro power stations to thermal power plants to restart them on a step-by-step basis, company officials said.

Water supplies have been completely cut off in Abira, Atsuma and Ebetsu, and suspended to some households in Hidaka, Kuriyama, Nanporo, Ishikari, Urausu, Uryu and Nemuro.

All services on JR Hokkaido lines, including the Hokkaido Shinkansen Line, are suspended and there are no prospects that train operations will be resumed anytime soon. The company cannot even update information on its website because of the power outage.

All flights to and from New Chitose Airport near Sapporo have been cancelled and its terminal buildings are currently closed, according to New Chitose Airport Terminal Building Co.

A large landslide caused by an earthquake is seen from a Mainichi Shimbun aircraft in the town of Atsuma, Hokkaido, on Sept. 6, 2018. (Mainichi)

The Abira Municipal Government issued an evacuation order to 14 households in the town's Hayakitahokushin district for fear of landslides.

The focus of the earthquake was situated about 37 kilometers deep in the central-eastern area of the Iburi district of Hokkaido. The temblor registered upper 6 in Abira and Mukawa, lower-6 in an area round New Chitose Airport in the city of Chitose and upper-5 in Sapporo, Tomakomai and other areas.

The Japan Meteorological Agency warned that there is a possibility that earthquake measuring upper-6 could hit the prefecture over the next week.


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