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Strong Quake Hits Hokkaido in Northeastern Japan - 2003-09-26

An earthquake measuring at least 7.8 on the Richter scale struck off the coast of Northeastern Japan at four-50 a-m local time Friday. NHK television reports 121 people were injured with some people hospitalized but there are no reports of major damage.

The powerful earthquake occurred 105 kilometers off the coast of Hokkaido in northeastern Japan.

NHK television says the quake rattled buildings and was so strong that people in the towns nearest the epicenter were unable to stand. The U.S. National Earthquake Center says it was the biggest quake recorded in the world this year.

The hardest hit area is Kushiro, on Hokkaido island. More than 9,000 homes lost electrical power. The earthquake also caused a train to derail and triggered a fire at an oil refinery.

Television news video shows damaged homes, sidewalks and roads, broken windows and supermarkets with collapsed shelving.

Police are telling people to stay away from Pacific coastal areas of Hokkaido and northern Honshu because of the possibility of tsunami, or giant ocean waves. The U.S. government issued tsunami warnings and watches throughout the Pacific but later canceled them.

A quake of this magnitude is capable of causing tremendous damage. Friday's quake struck just six days after a 5.5 magnitude quake jolted Japan. The epicenter of that quake was 80 kilometers below the surface in the Pacific Ocean east of Tokyo.

Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone nations because it lies at the junction of at least three tectonic plates.