September 21, 2018
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Death toll climbs in Japan's Hokkaido earthquake

Tokyo, Sep 6 (efe-epa).- At least nine people have died in a powerful 6.7-magnitude earthquake that struck the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido on Thursday while around 30 are missing.

The quake struck at 3:08 am local time and had an epicenter about 40 kilometers (25 miles) deep, east of Atsuma, the worst affected area and where the most deaths have occurred, government spokesperson Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference.

The quake reached the maximum level of 7 on the Japanese earthquake intensity scale on this mountainous island of around 4,600 inhabitants, triggering landslides and burying around 20 houses.

Although the central government has not released any official figures on the number of people missing or injured, local authorities say 31 people are missing while 300 have been injured, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Around 21,000 troops took part in search and rescue operations on Thursday, including 4,000 members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, a number the government wishes to increase to 25,000 to boost efforts and prevent more casualties.

Fifty helicopters came to aid of people who were trapped, and state media broadcast images of vehicles stuck in mud, and cracked roads in the affected cities.

This is the first time that an earthquake of such intensity has hit Hokkaido since the country revised its earthquake scale in 1996.

Power supply is gradually being restored to some 2.95 million households, which were left without power in Hokkaido in the wake of the quake, the Japanese spokesperson said.

The outage was caused by an automatic shutdown of the main Tomato-Atsuma thermal power station, which generates around half the electricity of the entire prefecture.

The blackout, the worst since the Hanshin earthquake in 1995 left 2.6 million homes without power, also affected 80 hospitals and telephone and TV services.

The government has ordered Tokyo Electric Power and Tohoku Electric Power to mobilize their emergency generators for hospitals as it may take up to a week to fully restore power on the island.

The Tomari Nuclear Power Plant saw its external power supply interrupted temporarily, activating its emergency power system.

The Japanese nuclear power regulator said no abnormality in radiation levels was detected at the plant.

The quake also cause roadblocks, the suspension of local and Shinkansen high-speed train services connecting Hokkaido with the main island of Honshu, and of metro services as well as the closure of the New Chitose Airport.

The Japan Meteorological Agency has warned of possible landslides and aftershocks of similar intensity in the coming week, especially in the next few days.

Until 6:34 pm, the JMA had counted 71 aftershocks, some of them of magnitude greater than 4 and 5 on the Richter scale.

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