Japan Rocked by Powerful Quake

Japan’s strongest earthquake in five years shook broad swaths of western regions today, injuring at least 12 people, destroying around two dozen homes and putting the region on alert for aftershocks.

The earthquake, measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale, struck at around 1:30 p.m. (0430 GMT), with its epicenter some six miles underground in largely rural western Tottori prefecture.

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori told reporters at his official residence that there had been no deaths so far and that he did not plan to set up an emergency task force.

“We believe that the quake has not caused any large number of casualties or any huge damage,” Tadao Ando, head of the government’s crisis management team, told a news conference.

12 Injured

Police said at least 12 people were injured, including two after a Shinto shrine collapsed and one person who was taken to hospital with cuts from flying glass. About 24 homes were destroyed, the police said.

Two people were rescued after being buried by landslides at two construction sites in Shimane prefecture on the coast of the Sea of Japan, a police spokesman said.

He said casualty figures for the region were likely to increase as more details emerged.

Strongest Quake Since Kobe

The quake was Japan’s strongest since January 17, 1995, when a devastating quake killed more than 6,000 people and caused huge damage in the western port city the Kobe.

Rural areas were among the hardest hit by today’s tremor, although the impact could even be felt in parts of Tokyo, about 360 miles east of the worst-hit areas.

“I’ve never experienced such a strong earthquake in my life,” a woman in Yonago told NTV. “I run a beauty parlor and I grabbed a customer and held onto her and we both crouched on the floor.”

The Meteorological Agency said there was a 40 percent chance of aftershocks measuring more than six on the Richter scale within a day.

“I felt a big jolt and then there was shaking for at least 10 seconds and I couldn’t stand up,” said one NHK reporter.

Dispatched to the Scene

The Defense Agency, Japan’s military, said it had sent one reconnaissance plane and a helicopter to the area and F-15 fighter planes were dispatched to collect data on the impact of the quake.

Japan’s coastguard also joined in emergency operations, dispatching 19 aircraft and 50 patrol boats.

Kenji Matsumoto, an official at the city of Sakai Minato in Tottori prefecture where damage appeared to be the worst, told NHK at least seven homes were destroyed and four others damaged. Water mains, roads and highways in the city suffered damage, but there was no report of casualties, he said.

Shinkansen bullet train services were halted between Toyohashi in Aichi prefecture, central Japan, and Shin-Iwakuni in Yamaguchi prefecture, western Japan, and some smaller airports were closed for checks.

Bullet train service between Tokyo and the western metropolis of Osaka was temporarily halted but later resumed.

Nuke Plants Shut Down

An electric power industry association official said no impact was reported on nuclear power plants in the area because they were shut for maintenance.

The tremor shook Japan’s Suzuka race track, where the penultimate Formula One race of the season takes place on Sunday. Journalists at the circuit’s media center headed for the exits as the building swayed.

No tidal wave warnings were issued.

Companies with factories in the region said they had suffered no major damage, though some halted operations for inspection.

Japan is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone regions, sitting atop the juncture of three tectonic plates, or pieces of the earth’s crust. Tens of thousands of quakes have jolted the Izu island chain south of Tokyo in recent months.