Page last updated at 02:33 GMT, Tuesday, 17 July 2007 03:33 UK

Search for Japan quake survivors

Police pass by a collapsed house in Kashiwazaki
Rescuers are searching for a person who has been reported missing

Rescue workers have been searching the rubble of hundreds of homes devastated by a strong earthquake in central Japan on Monday which killed nine people.

Some 10,000 people spent the night in evacuation centres as aftershocks hit the coastal city of Kashiwazaki, while heavy rain raised fears of mudslides.

Tens of thousands of residents were left without power and water.

The earthquake of magnitude 6.8 also damaged one of the world's largest nuclear power plants, causing a leak.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said water containing "a small amount of radioactive material" was released into the sea, but insisted it posed no environmental risk.

Tepco said the earthquake had been stronger than the reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station had been designed to withstand.

The company was warned later by Industry Minister Akira Amari for failing to extinguish quickly a fire sparked by the earthquake at the plant's electricity-supply area.

'No time to lose'

Officials in Kashiwazaki said rescue teams were combing through the rubble of collapsed buildings in the city to find survivors trapped inside, in particular one person who has been reported missing.

"Full-scale rescue operations are going on today," Masahiko Sato told the AFP news agency.

Map of Japan showing Kashiwazaki

"We don't have any time to lose if there are still potentially victims under the debris."

But the rescuers were being hampered by storms which have been buffeting the area in recent days.

Forecasters have issued warnings of heavy rain, flooding and lightning for the area on Tuesday, and up to 6cm (2.4 inches) of rain is expected to fall by Wednesday morning.

Officials also said the wet weather has increased the likelihood of landslides.

Elderly victims

The National Police Agency (NPA) said nine people had so far died of injuries sustained in the earthquake.

The victims, six women and three men, were all in their 70s and 80s.

Nineteen people were seriously injured, while more than 900 people were taken to hospital, mostly with broken bones, cuts and abrasions from collapsing buildings and falling objects.

Several hundred homes and businesses in Niigata prefecture were destroyed, roads were cracked and several landslides buried roads.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe broke off from election campaigning to visit Kashiwazaki.

"The government will make every effort to help with recovery," he said.

The safety of Japan's nuclear installations, which supply much of Japan's power, has come under the spotlight in recent years after a string of accidents and mishaps.

Japan lies in one of the world's most earthquake-prone regions and the ability of some reactors to withstand a strong tremor has been questioned.

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Footage of damage caused by the earthquake

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