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Last Updated: Monday, 26 May, 2003, 22:54 GMT 23:54 UK
Strong quake rocks Japan
Panicking shoppers
People ran in terror from buildings
Officials in Japan say at least 90 people were injured in a powerful earthquake which hit the north-east of the country on Monday.

Buildings shook 300 kilometres (180 miles) away in the capital Tokyo and the high-speed Bullet train service to the region had to be suspended.

But seismologists said the magnitude seven earthquake would have caused much more damage if it had not been so far underground.

The quake struck at 1824 local time (0924GMT), close to the northern city of Sendai.

Residents in Sendai described the tremors as strong and prolonged.

The epicentre was just off the coast in the Pacific Ocean, but the authorities said there was no danger of a tsunami, or giant wave, caused by the quake, because of its depth - about 70 kilometres.

Subway fear

About 35,000 homes temporarily lost power supplies, but electricity was restored for most within a few hours.

(The train) kept on rolling violently for 30 seconds and I have never experienced such a thing
Hideyuki Nakada
One nuclear reactor in the coastal town of Onagawa, near the epicentre, was automatically shut down, but there were no reports of damage and other reactors were operating normally, according to the National Police Agency.

The agency in Tokyo said 13 houses were damaged, all in the north-eastern states of Iwate, Miyagi and Akita.

He said two fires broke out, one at a power substation and another at a house, and 19 landslides were reported in the region.

Sendai city spokesman Hideyuki Nakada told the French news agency AFP: "I was in a subway train just departing a station when it was jolted up with a big bang. I thought somebody jumped onto the track.

"Then it kept on rolling violently for 30 seconds and I have never experienced such a thing."

Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik was evacuated from his hotel during a state visit to Tokyo when strong tremors rocked the building.

Mr Bondevik told Norwegian news agency NTB: "I was lying on the bed on the 13th floor when (the building) started to tremble. I admit that an earthquake was nowhere in my mind until ambassador Odd Fosseidbraate came running in.

"First I ran out in the corridor without my shoes, but then I decided it was best to put them on."

Japan's minister of disaster management, Yoshitada Konoike, told a news conference that it was it was "absolutely inconceivable that there could be damage similar to that after the Hanshin Awaji earthquake".

The Hanshin Awaji quake devastated Kobe in western Japan in 1995 and left 6,430 dead.

Noritake Nishide, a Meteorological Agency official, said Monday's earthquake was the most powerful since March 2001, when five states were hit in south-western Japan, killing two people and injuring nearly 200.

The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"The tremors rattled buildings across the north-east of the country"

Why do they happen?
26 Mar 02  |  Earthquakes
Deadly history of earthquakes
01 May 03  |  In Depth
Country profile: Japan
24 May 03  |  Country profiles

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