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Powerful Japan Quake Injures Hundreds - 2003-07-26


A swarm of powerful earthquakes has been shaking northeastern Japan Saturday, injuring more than 300 people. The most serious tremor is a magnitude 6.2 quake that collapsed homes and sent hundreds of people to emergency rooms in Miyagi Prefecture. But authorities are saying that for the second time in three months, the region appears to have been spared fatalities.

The two most powerful tremors, which occurred exactly seven hours apart early Saturday, cracked roads and bridges, and triggered mudslides and blackouts in Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures on the main island of Honshu. The same area was hit by a magnitude-seven earthquake just two months ago.

Officials say about 200 buildings, including public facilities and nursing homes were damaged, some collapsed. Tens of thousands of people were shaken awake.

A woman, speaking as an aftershock startled her, said the second big temblor of the morning knocked everything off of shelves and she found it hard to stand up.

Japan's Meteorological Agency says people in the region need to be cautious because of continuing aftershocks. More than half a dozen significant aftershocks were felt in the first 12 hours. There is also concern that heavy rains combined with the quakes could trigger further landslides. Evacuation orders have been issued in some communities.

The Ground Self Defense Force says several-hundred soldiers are being dispatched to the hardest-hit areas to clear debris.

Utility officials say Saturday's tremors cut electricity to 100,000 households, and it has been difficult to make telephone calls in or out of the area. They say nuclear power plants in the area were not damaged.

Scheduled high speed train service in the Tohoku region, which includes the two affected prefectures, was suspended, although some service was returned by early afternoon.

The meteorological agency said this is the first time since 1949 that two earthquakes of such magnitude, 5.5 and 6.2 on the Richter Scale, have occurred so close in time to each other. It says the two quakes originated only about five kilometers apart.

Seismologists say there is no apparent link between Saturday's earthquakes and the so-called Miyagi-oki quake, which scientists say usually hits this same region every three or four decades. The last time Miyagi-oki hit was in 1978, when it killed about 30 people.