World News

Strong quake strikes southwest of Tokyo

TOKYO (Reuters) - A strong earthquake jolted Tokyo and surrounding areas early Tuesday morning, throwing food and bottles from shop shelves, disrupting transport and closing a nuclear plant for safety checks.

A strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.6 jolted eastern and central Japan on Tuesday, a government agency said, rattling houses in Tokyo. REUTERS/Graphics

The magnitude 6.5 quake rattled houses across Tokyo and prompted the suspension of train services and the closure of highways for inspections but there were no immediate reports of major damage.

“It was a sideways shaking like I’ve never experienced before. Things fell from the shelves,” Atsushi Imai, a local city employee, told public broadcaster NHK.

The area has been hit by heavy rain since Monday and the weather agency warned of possible landslides and flooding.

“Due to the typhoon, there was a lot of rain and the ground is unstable,” Japan Meteorological Agency official Yasuo Sekita told a televised news conference. “There may be landslides.”

The Japan Meteorological Agency said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.5, revised down from an initially reported 6.6.

The focus of the 5:07 a.m. (2007 GMT, Monday) tremor was 20 km (12 miles) below the surface of Suruga Bay in Shizuoka prefecture, around 150 km (90 miles) southwest of Tokyo, the agency said.

TV pictures showed glass bottles shattered on a convenience store floor, a TV newsroom with video tapes thrown from shelves, and a temple where tiles had been shaken off the roof and were scattered on the ground.

“There was a bit of shaking at first, then it got stronger and I couldn’t stand up. Elevators and other machines like the heater for baths have stopped running,” said a hotel worker in Omaezaki contacted by phone.

“Some files fell off shelves and lamps toppled over. Our guests are fine, but their families have called since the earthquake to ask about their safety,” she said.

Only minor injuries were reported, NHK said, although power was cut to 9,100 homes.

The main expressway down the Pacific coast was closed for damage inspection and many high-speech bullet train services were suspended for safety checks, NHK said.

Central Japan Railway company said on its Website that the Tokaido shinkansen was not running between Tokyo and Osaka.

Japan’s Chubu Electric Power Co halted operations at its Hamaoka nuclear plant after two reactors, the 1,137-megawatt No.4 and 1,267-MW No.5 units shut down automatically following the quake.

The trade ministry said an alarm activated for high radioactivity inside the No.5 unit but that there was no radioactive impact on the outside environment.

A tsunami of up to 60 cm (24 inches) was recorded along the Pacific coast but the tsunami warning was later lifted, NHK said.

Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world’s most seismically active areas. The country accounts for about 20 percent of the world’s earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.

In October 2004, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck the Niigata region in northern Japan, killing 65 people and injuring more than 3,000.

That was the deadliest quake since a magnitude 7.3 tremor hit the city of Kobe in 1995, killing more than 6,400.

Reporting by Chisa Fujioka, Yoko Kubota, Yoko Nishikawa, Osamu Tsukimori, Elaine Lies; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Rodney Joyce and Hugh Lawson