A powerful earthquake hit northwestern Japan Monday morning, killing at least three people, injuring more than 200 others, and causing a minor fire at a nuclear power plant. Catherine Makino reports from Tokyo.
The 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Monday shortly after 10 a.m. Japan time, 60 kilometers southwest of Niigata City in the Sea of Japan.
Hospitals in the region reported at least two deaths related to the quake, and preliminary media reports spoke of many injuries.
The quake caused a fire in a transformer at a nuclear power plant in central Japan, but Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki says the small fire was put out just after noon, and there is no indication that any radiation escaped. He says key elements of the plant shut down automatically and operations have halted.
Shiozaki says some major highways and railways were closed, but have now been reopened. The Japan Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami warning and several small waves hit the shore before the warning was withdrawn.
Pictures from Niigata Prefecture show collapsed buildings, and reports say about 20,000 homes are without electricity.
The prefecture's governor has requested help from Japan's Self Defense Forces.
Earthquakes are common in Japan because the country lies at the junction of four of the tectonic plates that move over the earth's surface. About 20 percent of the world's most powerful earthquakes take place here.
The last major earthquake to hit Niigata occurred in October 2004, with a magnitude of 6.8. It killed 65 people and injured more than 300.