International - POSTED: 2007/03/25 02:29
A powerful quake tore into a rural area of coastal central Japan on Sunday, killing at least one person as it toppled aging farmhouses and temples, set off landslides and caused a small tsunami. Some 160 people were injured.
The magnitude 6.9 quake struck at 9:42 a.m. (0042 GMT) off the Noto Peninsula on the Sea of Japan coast. The Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami warning urging an evacuation, but the alert was lifted after a 10-centimeter (6-inch) wave hit the shore, causing no damage.
The temblor was a shock to the region, which had not seen a major quake since 1933.
"The shaking was so violent, I freaked out. All I could do was to duck underneath the desk," said Yukiko Taka, 58, the owner of a traditional lacquerware shop in Wajima, the hardest hit town in Ishikawa prefecture (state). "It was so frightening."
Weaker quakes rattled the region through the day, including a magnitude 5.3 aftershock. No additional damage was reported.
The initial quake knocked down buildings, caused landslides, and cut power, water and transportation lines. The Noto airport was closed, and roads were snarled with residents leaving or concerned Japanese rushing to the area to see relatives.
A 52-year-old woman was crushed to death by a falling stone lantern, officials said, and at least 162 other people were injured, most of them hurt when they fell during the shaking or were hit by falling objects and broken glass.
Local authorities said they were thankful the death toll was so low.
"Perhaps our traditional homes were sturdy enough to survive the quake," said Masayuki Murozuka, an Ishikawa official. "I think it was also fortunate that the quake hit in midmorning so most people were fully awake, perhaps even finished breakfast by then."
Television footage of the quake showed buildings shaking violently for about 30 seconds. After the quake, buildings lay in heaps of rubble, and the windows of shops were shattered. Roof tiles cluttered streets with cracked pavement.
Fear of aftershocks and more landslides caused by the loosening of soil waterlogged by overnight rains continued to plague the quake zone -- and keep residents jittery.
"A fairly big aftershock hit just minutes ago and I jumped out the door," said Tomio Maeda, manager of convenience store Family Mart in Anamizu town. "It's scary, I guess it's not over yet."
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said officials were doing their best to rescue victims and assess the extent of the damage.
About 30 soldiers had arrived to help with disaster relief, and military aircraft were examining the damage. Some 375 firefighters from seven other prefectures were also dispatched to help, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said.
The quake also knocked down at least 45 homes in Ishikawa, and partially destroyed another 227, the FDMA said. Most of the injuries and damage were concentrated in Wajima, about 312 kilometers (193 miles) northwest of Tokyo.