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Aftershocks Continue in Japan - 2003-05-27

Scores of aftershocks are continuing in northern Japan after a powerful earthquake struck during the Monday evening rush hour. The country is being warned this quake may foreshadow an even bigger natural disaster.

Japanese government officials and scientists say they are grateful the magnitude seven quake Monday caused no deaths. More than a hundred people were injured.

The biggest tremor to hit the country in two years violently shook a wide portion of mostly agricultural northern Japan. In bars and shops, bottles fell from shelves. At a day car center, caretakers whisked confused toddlers to safety.

Blackouts occurred in some cities and natural gas service was automatically halted when the quake struck.

Those who were watching television in such cities as Morioka and Sendai -- the area's biggest population centers -- saw announcers struggling to maintain calm in swaying studios while trying to alert the audience to the obvious.

Throughout the region there are reports of buckled roads, landslides, shattered windows and cracked buildings. Scientists say damage and casualties were probably minimized because the quake was centered offshore, deep in the Pacific Ocean.

Government seismologists are warning that there is a 70 percent chance of an aftershock with a magnitude greater than five on the Richter scale within the next day. Preliminary inspections in Iwate Prefecture revealed that the ground had liquefied during the quake.

More sobering news for the region is that scientists do not believe this was the so-called Big Miyagi earthquake, which has hit the region every 30 to 40 years. The last struck in 1978, killing 28 people.

Regional governments are advising vigilance because a tremor similar to the one Monday hit the area four months before the killer 1978 quake.

While residents nervously ride out the wave of smaller tremors, a damage assessment is underway. East Japan Railway says cracks have been found in about two dozen viaduct piers on a high-speed bullet train line. Rail service was temporarily suspended between Sendai and Morioka.

Japan, which sits atop a junction of three tectonic plates, is among the world's most earthquake prone countries. More than six-thousand people were killed in Kobe, in western Japan, when a magnitude seven-point-two quake hit in 1995.