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Powerful Earthquake Hits Northern Japan

November 28, 2004

TOKYO – A powerful earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.1 struck Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido early Monday, swaying buildings, throwing objects off shelves and triggering a small tsunami wave that reached the shore.

The 3:32 a.m. quake injured at least eight people, but there were no immediate reports of damage.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency quickly issued a tsunami warning for the eastern shores of Hokkaido’s Pacific coastal area. Tsunami are potentially dangerous waves triggered by seismic activity.

But agency official Masahiro Yamamoto later told a televised news conference that the agency had lifted its warning, saying it had detected a 4-inch tsunami and expected only small changes in the ocean’s surface.

The quake was centered off Hokkaido’s east coast, about 550 miles northwest of Tokyo, 30 miles below the sea surface. The rocking was felt throughout northern Japan, including Hokkaido’s largest city, Sapporo, and Kushiro, on the island’s eastern shore.

A 4.6-magnitude aftershock followed the initial tremor about a half hour later.

“We expect the aftershocks to continue,” Yamamoto said.

National broadcaster NHK showed footage of desks rumbling in their offices and convenience store goods thrown from shelves by the force of the quake.

Most of those injured were in the cities of Kushiro, Nemuro and Bekkaicho. An 80-year-old woman living in Nemuro was thrown to the floor and treated for broken ribs, and an 85-year-old suffered cuts to his face after he was struck by falling objects, NHK reported. The others injuries weren’t serious, NHK said.

Hundreds of homes in Hokkaido temporarily lost power and natural gas services, NHK reported.

A magnitude 7 earthquake can cause widespread, heavy damage.

Last month, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake and several large aftershocks in the prefecture of northern Niigata killed 40 people and damaged more than 16,000 homes. That quake was the deadliest in Japan since 1995, when a magnitude 7.2 quake killed 6,000 people in the western city of Kobe.