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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 July, 2003, 21:30 GMT 22:30 UK
Quakes rattle Japanese north
Miyagi earthquake debris
Roof tiles and walls came crashing down
A series of earthquakes have rocked rain-soaked northern Japan, injuring at least 420 people and causing landslides and power blackouts.

Hundreds were evacuated in the remote region of Miyagi Prefecture, about 300 kilometres (186 miles) north of Tokyo.

The first quake came around midnight Friday local time (1500 GMT), measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale, while a second measuring 6.2 struck seven hours later.

The BBC's Tokyo correspondent, Jonathan Head, says the quakes were relatively minor by Japanese standards.

We were eating breakfast when it hit and tried to hide under the table
Ryuichi Matsuoka
resident of Nangocho
However, the tremors, which had their epicentre off the coast, could be felt as far away as the Japanese capital.

Aftershocks struck the area on Saturday afternoon, with one reaching 5.4 in intensity.

Thousands of homes were left without electricity and, in many cases, water, while rail and road links were shut down because of the threat from landslides.

Emergency plans

"We were eating breakfast when it hit and tried to hide under the table," Ryuichi Matsuoka, 39, told Reuters news agency in the town of Nangocho.

He was among some 530 people who had taken shelter in a school gym and another venue in the town.

Witnesses said these quakes were scarier than one in May in the same region which had reached 7 on Richter, because they were much closer to the surface.

Footage of the destruction shown on Japanese TV showed collapsed wooden houses, shattered concrete walls and toppled gravestones in several towns and villages.

Yoshitada Konoike, the cabinet minister for disaster management, said he hoped the quakes had settled down but was concerned about further damage due to heavy rain.

Our correspondent says that the emergency services in Japan are generally well prepared to cope with quakes of this size.

Hard lessons were learnt from the Kobe earthquake in 1995, which killed more than 6,000 people and exposed serious weaknesses in emergency planning and building design.

Geologists have long predicted that a massive earthquake will hit the Tokyo area where 30 million people live.

Japan sits on the junction of at least three tectonic plates, slabs on the earth's surface whose movements cause earthquakes.

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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