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Japan Hit by Deadly Earthquake, Adding to Summer of Environmental Misery

TOKYO — A powerful earthquake struck Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido on Thursday, causing millions of homes to lose power, killing at least nine people and leaving 33 others missing after a landslide crushed multiple houses.

The quake, which toppled some small buildings and cut electricity to all three million houses on the island, came just days after the largest typhoon to hit Japan in 25 years ripped through the southwest, killing 11 and closing Japan’s third busiest airport for several days.

In Hokkaido on Thursday, rescue workers were struggling to get to the homes crushed by a mudslide in the towns of Atsuma and Abira after the quake, which struck just after 3 a.m. Japan’s weather service said it had a preliminary magnitude of 6.7.

Hokkaido officials said three bodies had been recovered from the landslides in Atsuma, and that another was found in Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital. About 300 people were injured.

According to NHK, the public broadcaster, about 1,900 people were evacuated from their homes.

The quake took a huge toll on Hokkaido’s power grid. A nuclear plant in Tomari lost its main power supply, but a backup generator was cooling its spent fuel pools. Hokkaido Electric Power, the company that operates the plant, said it had not detected any changes in radiation levels around the plant.

Hiroshige Seko, Japan’s minister of economy, trade and industry, told reporters it would take about a week or more for power to be restored to all homes in Hokkaido. Rail services on the island were shut down because of the power failure.

By Thursday afternoon, power had been returned to 338,000 households. Just under 250 hospitals were running on generators. Traffic lights in central Sapporo were back on, and so was a digital bulletin board on the front of a television tower, a local landmark.

Thursday’s quake was the strongest to hit Hokkaido, a popular skiing destination with a population of just under 5.5 million people, since 1996.

A part of the ceiling at the island’s main commercial airport in Chitose caved in, and a fire broke out at a petrochemical factory in the port town of Muroran. Air traffic was disrupted.

The quake is the latest in a series of natural disasters for Japan. In July, floods and landslides killed more than 200 people in the west, followed by heat waves that took an additional 130 lives across the country.

Hokkaido’s governor, Harumi Takahashi, asked for assistance from the military, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. Yoshihide Suga, chief cabinet secretary to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said 4,000 troops had been dispatched immediately, and that up to 25,000 could be sent to the island to help with search and cleanup efforts.

Makiko Inoue and Hisako Ueno contributed research.

Source: NYT > World

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