At least two die as strong earthquake hits Japan

A strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.4 has struck a wide area in southwestern Japan, killing at least two people and injuring more than a dozen people.

A strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.4 has struck a wide area in southwestern Japan, killing at least two people and injuring more than a dozen people.

Yoshinobu Tanimoto, a fire department official in Hiroshima prefecture, said one woman was killed under a collapsing concrete wall. He said there were another 16 reports of casualties, one of them severe.

In neighboring Ehime prefecture, a woman fleeing her home died after roof tiles crashed down onto her head, said national Police Agency official Tsuyoshi Iwashita.

The quake, centered some 38 miles below ground, struck at 3:28pm (0628 GMT) near Hiroshima prefecture, about 429 miles south west of Tokyo, the Meteorological Agency said.

The agency said there was no danger of tsunami, the waves caused by undersea disturbances such as earthquakes and volcanic activity.

"There was a terrible shaking and some products fell on to the floor," said Takuya Ueda, a cashier at a convenience store in Hiroshima. "It lasted a long time, about 30 seconds, but there was no panic inside the store."

The quake was also powerful enough to shatter windows. Train services were stopped, and the airport in Hiroshima closed for inspection. Telephone service was also disrupted, but there was no report of electrical blackouts.

Smoke could be seen rising from at least two places in Hiroshima, but officials could not immediately confirm whether it was from fires caused by the quake.

Michiyo Koniki, a police spokesman in neighboring Tottori prefecture, said the quake caused a slow rocking motion that lasted around 15-20 seconds.

He said there were no reports of injuries, damage to buildings or fires in Tottori. The quake wasn't strong enough to cause books or other objects to fall from shelves there.

In Hiroshima city, buildings swayed violently and people had trouble standing.

Television footage taken from inside NHK's Hiroshima office showed hanging lights shaking and employees leaving their desks to head for the exits. Telephone service in the area was also interrupted briefly.

The quake was felt as far away as South Korea, where windows shook in towns along the nation's eastern and southern coasts.

Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, and straddles three tectonic plates, the huge slabs of land that cover the surface of the Earth.

A magnitude 6 quake can seriously damage houses and buildings in a populated area. Today's quake was located offshore and relatively deep, which may have lightened its impact.

In October, a magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck a largely rural area in Tottori prefecture. Though at least 120 people were hurt in that quake, no one died. Some 2,000 homes were damaged, but only two were completely destroyed.

Some 6,000 people died when a powerful quake devastated the western Japan port of Kobe in 1995.

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