A 7.2-magnitude earthquake rocked a rural, mountainous area of northern Japan today, killing at least three people, triggering landslides, stopping train service and knocking down a bridge.
With roads closed, military aircraft and helicopters were mobilised to assess the damage.
Kyodo News agency said at least 100 people were injured. Officials confirmed at least 84 injuries and seven people missing. Another 100 people were trapped at a hot springs, according to the government’s Disaster Agency, but details of their situation remained unclear.
One of the deaths was a man who ran out of a building in fear and was hit by a passing lorry, and another was a man buried in a landslide while fishing, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura.
A third victim was a construction worker who was hit by a falling rock at a dam in Iwate, according to the National Police Agency.
About five gallons of radioactive water splashed from two pools storing spent fuel at a Fukushima nuclear power plant, but there was no leakage outside the facility, Trade and Industry Ministry official Yoshinori Moriyama said.
Two nuclear power plants in the area were being inspected, but there were no immediate reports of damage, said Machimura. Ten nuclear reactors at the two power plants in Onagawa and Fukushima were running normally, operators Tohoku Electric Power Co. and Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.
However, electricity had been cut to about 29,000 households in the quake zone.
There was no danger of tsunami, but several aftershocks, including one with a magnitude of 5.6, struck the area in the hours after the initial quake.
Meteorological Agency official Takashi Yokota said at least 40 aftershocks occurred in the area and could trigger further damage to buildings or cause landslides.
The quake was centred in the northern state of Iwate about 250 miles northeast of Tokyo, and was located about five miles underground. It was felt as far away as Tokyo.
“It shook so violently that I couldn’t stand still. I had to lean on the wall,” said Masanori Oikawa, an Oshu city official who was at home near the epicentre when the quake struck. “When I rushed to the office, cabinets had been thrown onto the floor and things on the desks were scattered all over the place.”
Officials said the full extent of the earthquake continued to be assessed.
“Damage appears to be growing, but we can’t even go out there to assess the situation with roads closed off because of landslides,” said Norio Sato, a city official in one of the hardest-hit cities, Kurihara.
In that city, a landslide swallowed 15 construction workers, leaving three of them still missing, while the remaining managed to climb out on their own. Four people at Komanoyu hot springs were also missing after a separate landslide hit the resort hotel, according to another city official, Katsuyuki Sato.
The Defence Ministry dispatched a dozen helicopters and patrol aircraft to the region to conduct flyovers and assess the extent of damage. The government also sent a CH-47 helicopter carrying Disaster Minister Shinya Izumi to the region.
Footage shot from media helicopters showed landslides on rural roads running along knots of mountains separated by long stretches of rice fields.
Footage aired on national broadcaster NHK also showed a bridge that collapsed. NHK said four people were seriously injured while riding on a bus over a bridge when the quake hit, but it was unclear whether it was the same one.
Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone areas in the world. The most recent major quake in Japan killed more than 6,400 people in the city of Kobe in January 1995.