Huge earthquake rocks Japan

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The Independent Online

A powerful earthquake rocked Japan's northern island of Hokkaido early today, injuring almost 250 people, knocking out power supplies, derailing a train, starting a major industrial fire, but apparently causing no fatalities.

A powerful earthquake rocked Japan's northern island of Hokkaido early today, injuring almost 250 people, knocking out power supplies, derailing a train, starting a major industrial fire, but apparently causing no fatalities.

The quake — the strongest anywhere in the world this year — forced the evacuation of more than 40,000 people and left some 16,000 homes blacked out.

There were no immediate reports of deaths directly caused by the quake, which struck at 4:50 a.m., cracking roads, capsizing fishing boats and causing the roof of a local airport to partially cave in.

The quake was centered in the Pacific about 60 miles off Hokkaido's eastern shore. It was followed by two strong aftershocks and several small tsunami waves. Police officials confirmed at least 246 people were hurt, 18 of them seriously. Most of the injuries were caused by glass from shattered windows and falling objects in homes.

Eri Takizawa, a city official in Kushiro, 500 miles north-east of Tokyo, which was believed to be the hardest hit, said: "We have small quakes here from time to time, but this was completely different."

The quake measured 8 on the Richter scale the Japanese Central Meteorological Agency said. An earthquake of that magnitude is capable of causing tremendous damage. A powerful aftershock of magnitude 7 followed shortly after 6am, and another hit two hours later. The agency said there were more than a dozen smaller aftershocks by late morning

One 70-year-old woman was being treated at a hospital after breaking her leg as she was trying to leave her house through a window. Huge cracks forced the closure of roads, water was cut off and regional airports were closed for inspection.

A fire broke out at an oil depot in the city of Tomakomai, but no workers were reported injured. Nuclear power facilities on Hokkaido were inspected after the quake, but officials said there was no evidence of any damage or safety breaches.

One person was injured when a local train carrying about 39 passengers derailed. Kushiro airport was temporarily closed after part of a roof caved in, and several roads were blocked by landslides.

A 61-year-old man cleaning up broken beer bottles on a street was hit by a car and died, Hokkaido police said. A fisherman also died, but his death was also not believed to be directly caused by the quake.

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