Monday, July 16, 2007 11:41 pm
Powerful earthquake strikes Niigata, causes leak at nuclear power plant
A magnitude 6.8 earthquake shook Niigata and surrounding prefectures in northwestern Japan on Monday morning at 10.13 p.m., killing 10, injuring more than 1100 and flattening 342 buildings in the area, Japanese media reported. Black smoke rose from a nuclear power plant in the area as a small fire broke out inside which was soon extinguished, but evening reports made clear that radioactive water had been leaked from one of the reactors.
“I was so scared - the violent shaking went on for 20 seconds,” a Kashiwazaki convenience store clerk told the Japan Times by telephone. “I almost fainted from the fear of the shaking.“
The earthquake measured a powerful 6.8 on the Richter scale at the epicenter some 60 km southwest of Niigata city at a depth of 17 km under the seabed,. and registered a high 6 out of a maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale (shindo) in Kashiwazaki and Kariwa in Niigata Prefecture and in Iizuna, Nagano Prefecture. The quake was felt as far away as Tokyo.
A strong 5.6 Magnitude aftershock also hit the prefecture at about 3:37 p.m.
10 people were killed in the quake, most of them were crushed to death as their roofs fell down upon them. More than 1100 were injured. 306 buildings were completely destroyed, most of them were older wooden houses, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said that 4 out of 7 nuclear reactors in the area had stopped automatically, while those which did not will be investigated. A transformer at one of the plants caught on fire, and black smoke was seen billowing up from the plant, but the small fire was soon extinguished. Initial reports from Tokyo Electric Power Co. said no radioactivity had been released, but a company spokesman later admitted the power plant had leaked water containing radioactive materials.
NHK quoted plant operators saying the radioactivity level is now low and that the leakage will not pose any danger to the environment.
Some 8,400 people turned up at the 80 evacuation centers set up in Kashiwazaki and Kariwa, as several thousand households were left without water and electricity.
“People tell me they want to get back to their usual lives as soon as possible,” Reuters quoted Prime Minister Abe Shinzo saying after arriving in Kashiwazaki by helicopter. “We’ll make every effort towards rescue and also to restore services such as gas and electricity.“
A tsunami warning was issued by the Japan Meteorological Agency for parts of the nearby Sado Island and other coastal areas, but was lifted about an hour after the initial quake.
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