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Powerful Earthquake Jolts Japan - 2003-09-26

A powerful earthquake jolted Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido Friday, forcing thousands to evacuate their homes. Local media reports say more than 300 people were injured.

An earthquake measuring 8 on the Richter scale struck off the coast of Northeastern Japan at 4:50 a.m. local time Friday. The powerful earthquake occurred in the Pacific Ocean, about 100 kilometers off the coast of Hokkaido.

It was the biggest quake recorded in the world this year and the largest to hit Japan in almost nine years. Damage was minor given the quake's intensity, because the area affected is mostly rural.

But the tremor rattled buildings, cracked roads and capsized small fishing vessels. It sent roof tiles flying off buildings and caused gravestones to tumble. It derailed a train and triggered a fire at an oil refinery.

Of the people who were injured, most were cut by shattered glass or hurt by falling objects in their homes. One local woman told Japan's NHK television that she could not stand up. She says the force of the quake made it impossible to stand up, so she hid in bed until it was over.

Another resident says all her expensive wine glasses fell from their shelves. She says she wore shoes to protect herself from the broken glass that covered her floor.

The hardest hit area is Kushiro, on Hokkaido island. More than 16,000 homes lost electrical power and officials told 40,000 people to evacuate.

In a speech to parliament Friday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi offered his sympathy to the injured and pledged the government's support to help the area cope with the earthquake's aftermath.

Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone nations because it lies at the junction of four tectonic plates. The country's deadliest quake in recent years hit the densely populated Japanese city of Kobe in 1995 and killed more than 6,000 people. It measured 7.3 on the Richter scale.