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Death Toll from Powerful Earthquake in Northern Japan Rises

Death Toll from Powerful Earthquake in Northern Japan Rises

At least nine people died and about 300 people were injured after an quake with a magnitude of 6.7 rocked Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido early Thursday, destroying houses, cutting off roads and causing massive multiple landslides that buried parts of towns and left many mountains almost bare.

The magnitude-6.7 quake struck southern Hokkaido at 3:08 a.m at a [shallow] depth of 40 kilometers (24 miles), Japan's Meteorological Agency said.

Approximately 12 hours later, the power had been restored only to parts of Sapporo, Hokkaido's capital, and Asahikawa, its second-most populated city, a spokesperson for the power plant said.

Around 22 people are still unaccounted for in the small northern countryside town of Atsuma, where a cluster of dwellings were wrecked when a hillside collapsed with the force of the 6.6-magnitude quake, causing deep brown scars in the landscape. At least 20 other people were injured in nearby towns; their conditions weren't immediately known.

The quake's epicenter was east of the city of Tomakomai. A mudslide left several cars half buried, and the ground subsided, leaving drainpipes and manhole covers protruding by more than a meter (yard) in some places.

The Tomari nuclear power plant in Hokkaido, which was not operational before the quake, was forced to turn to emergency back-up power to keep its cooling system working, NHK said.

The main railway company on the quake-hit northern Japanese island of Hokkaido said all trains have stopped due to power outage.

He said utilities were starting up several other thermal and hydroelectric plants but even with those stopgap supplies thousands would still be without power for some time.

Police search missing persons at the site of a landslide after an earthquake in Atsuma town Hokkaido northern Japan
Police search missing persons at the site of a landslide after an earthquake in Atsuma town Hokkaido northern Japan

"We've heard there are people still stuck under the mud, so we've been working around the clock but it's been hard to rescue them", a Self-Defense Forces serviceman in Atsuma told public broadcaster NHK. Kirin Brewery and Sapporo Breweries both said factories were shut by the power outage.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference that authorities had received hundreds of calls about people missing and buildings' collapsing. Thirty-three people were still missing, the broadcaster added. Officials said the plant had enough fuel to operate the diesel generator for at least seven days.

Abe arrived at his office before 6am and told reporters his government had set up a command centre to coordinate relief and rescue.

Six emergency diesel generators were being used to cool spent nuclear fuel stored in a pool at the plant.

Rescuers were using dogs, backhoes and shovels to search Friday for survivors trapped in mud and debris from landslides triggered by a powerful quake in northern Japan.

The blackout and landslides, triggered by the quake, paralyzed the island.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9 natural disaster, the most powerful recorded in Japan, struck off the northern Honshu coast.

In Sapporo, a city of some 1.96 million residents, neon and traffic lights were out Thursday night and parts of its roads caved in, while long lines formed in front of a limited number of convenience stores and gas stands that had reopened.