At least two people were killed and 38 went missing after a powerful earthquake paralysed Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido on Thursday, media reported, but the death toll was likely to rise as rescuers searched houses buried by landslides.
The quake also knocked out power to Hokkaido’s 5.3 million residents.
Public broadcaster NHK said five people were found “unresponsive”, a term commonly used in Japan before death is formally confirmed, and another 120 were injured after the 6.7-magnitude quake struck before dawn, reports Reuters.
Aerial footage showed dozens of landslides exposing barren hillsides near the town of Atsuma in southern Hokkaido, with mounds of reddish earth and toppled trees piled up at the edge of green fields. The collapsed remains of what appeared to be houses or barns were scattered about.
“The shaking was really terrible,” an unidentified man in Atsuma told NHK. “I thought the house was going to collapse.”
Other scenes from the southeastern part of Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital, showed crumbled roads and mud flowing onto a main street.
The entire island lost power for the first time since Hokkaido Electric Power Co was created in 1951. The utility conducted an emergency shutdown of all its fossil fuel-fired power plants after the quake.
All trains across the island, which is about the size of Austria, were also halted.
The government said there was damage to the Tomato-Atsuma plant that supplies half the electricity to the island’s 2.95 million households.
The utility was trying to restore some power from hydroelectric and other fossil-fuel sources on Thursday and aimed to bring other plants on line by Friday, industry minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters. It may take a week to restore power fully to all residents, he said.
‘Nothing I can do’
TV footage showed police directing traffic because signal lights were out. Drink-vending machines, ubiquitous in Japan, and most ATMs were not working.
“Without electricity, there’s nothing I can do except to write prescriptions,” a doctor in Abira, the town next to Atsuma, told NHK.
The quake hit at 3:08am (1808 GMT Wednesday) at a depth of 40 km (25 miles), with its epicentre about 65 km (40 miles) southeast of Sapporo, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA). It registered a strong 6 on Japan’s 7-point quake scale.
It struck near Hokkaido’s main airport, New Chitose Airport, which would be closed for at least Thursday. Roof tiles and water could be seen on the terminal floors.
Chitose airport is a major gateway to the island, known for its mountains, lakes and abundant farmland and seafood. More than 200 flights and 40,000 passengers would be affected, Kyodo News agency said.
The closure comes just a couple days after Kansai Airport, an important hub for companies exporting semiconductors near Osaka in western Japan was shut after it was hit by Typhoon Jebi. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said officials hoped to reopen Kansai Airport for domestic flights on Friday.
Telephone service provider NTT East made public phones free throughout Hokkaido to allow residents to call land lines as mobile phones lose power.
The Tomari Nuclear Power Station, which has been shut since a 2011 earthquake and tsunami, suffered a power outage but was cooling its spent nuclear fuel safely with emergency power, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
A fire that broke out at a Mitsubishi Steel Mfg Co (5632.T) plant in the city of Muroran after the quake was extinguished with no injuries.
A series of smaller shocks, including one with a magnitude of 5.4, followed the initial quake, the JMA said. Residents were warned to take precautions for potential major aftershocks in coming days.