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Thirty feared dead in Japan earthquake: Tidal waves hit coast of Hokkaido after 'terrible' seismic shocks

THIRTY people were feared dead after an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale hit Japan 500 miles north of Tokyo yesterday. The epicentre of the earthquake was about 40 miles off the coast of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, and caused a series of tidal waves to crash ashore after the quake.

NHK, the state television network, reported that a hotel on a small island off the coast of Hokkaido had collapsed with about 30 people inside. In other incidents, one old woman was washed away by a tidal wave along the coast, and another woman was buried alive in a landslide caused by the earthquake. The television station showed pictures of roads in Hokkaido so badly cracked that cars could not pass.

The main damage appeared to have occurred on Okushiri island off Hokkaido. Residents of the island told the television station by telephone of houses falling down as the earth shook 'terribly', and of some buildings catching fire. Dozens of houses were reported to have been destroyed. Late last night a rescue helicopter was being dispatched to the island to help local residents.

Within minutes of the quake, the Meteorological Agency in Tokyo - which is responsible for giving warnings of natural disasters - put out an alert about tidal waves for north-western Japan, and advised people living close to the coast to leave their houses and seek higher ground. Waves up to 10ft high washed ashore on western Hokkaido, sweeping away fishing boats and cars.

According to the agency, the main earthquake was followed by another tremor which measured 5.4 on the Richter scale. The agency said that in Hokkaido the earthquake measured five on the Japanese scale, which records the observed effects of a quake at a specific location. Intensity five means cracks will appear in concrete buildings while stone walls and tombstones can collapse. In January this year an earthquake also measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale hit Kushiro on the north-eastern coast of Hokkaido, leaving one person dead and injuring about 350.

NHK interrupted its normal programming to show footage of buildings shaking violently, and to issue its 'Major Tidal Wave Warning'. A map of Japan with endangered sections of the coast flashing in red was broadcast, along with a timetable for the estimated arrival of the tidal waves at specific locations along the coast.

(Photograph and map omitted)