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Debris scattered everywhere as Sapporo residents spend uneasy night after explosion

Firefighters and other emergency personnel investigate the scene of a large explosion the previous night in Sapporo's Toyohira Ward, on Dec. 17, 2018. (Mainichi/Taichi Kaizuka)

SAPPORO -- At the scene of the explosion that occurred in the Toyohira Ward here in Japan's northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido on the night of Dec. 16, shattered glass and debris covered a wide area, with concrete shards breaking car windows some 100 meters away, telling of the size of the blast.

As the sun rose on the morning of Dec. 17, damage to the windows of apartments and residential complexes in the area came to light. An area within a 100-meter radius from the source of the explosion has been blocked off to anyone other those that live inside the effected district. Under the gaze of uneasy residents, Hokkaido Prefectural Police and other authorities investigated the scene.

Out of worries of a second blast and the loss of power and running water to the area, the roughly 60 residents were evacuated to the nearby Hiragishi community center, where they spent an anxious night.

"It's the first power and water outage since the September earthquake (that struck Sapporo)," said 64-year-old Keiji Nonomura. "I carried water in a plastic tank from the water tank on the first floor all the way to my home on the eighth floor."

Nonomura lives in an apartment complex behind the building that collapsed in the explosion. Besides having the windows of his residence cracked by the force of the blast, his building lost power, and the system that brought water to the upper floors of the complex using electricity went down. On top of that, a police officer came in the middle of the night requesting he evacuate, and he says he moved in the early hours of the morning, exhaustion coloring his expression.

As of 9 a.m. on Dec. 17, there were still roughly 10 people in the evacuation center. In order to prevent another explosion in the area, Hokkaido Electric Power Co. cut the power, and as many as 240 homes were without electricity until just before 7 a.m.

A building housing two businesses with employees and customers inside collapsed in the explosion, and the entrance of the adjacent apartment complex was a sea of shattered glass. The roofs of three cars parked in front of the complex were covered in debris, and the windows knocked out on the side facing the blast. In addition, most of the windows of the four-story apartment building on the other side of the street were shattered, and even the window of a third-story beauty salon some 150 meters away had also cracked.

A 28-year-old male company employee, a resident of the city's Minami Ward, was having dinner with three friends on the second floor of one of the establishments in the collapsed building at the time of the incident. "I heard a loud bang and the interior of the restaurant turned into a mess, and I saw a fire come from inside and spread," he recalled of the moment of the explosion. He was knocked down by the force of the blast, and he said he hurriedly jumped from the window as the building began to collapse. The man sustained a cut to his right hand and that whole side of his body still aches, he said.

Another man, 29, who was also dining with four other friends on the second floor said, "The walls just broke along with the sound from the explosion. From the smell of flames and gas, I felt that my life was in danger, so I escaped out of the restaurant (from the window."

(Japanese original by Nozomi Gemma and Junichi Tsuchiya, Hokkaido News Department)

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