SAPPORO: A powerful earthquake Thursday on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido triggered dozens of landslides that crushed houses under torrents of dirt, rocks and timber, prompting frantic efforts to unearth any survivors.
At least nine people were killed, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. Officials said at least 366 were injured, five of them seriously, and about 30 people were unaccounted for after the magnitude 6.7 earthquake jolted residents from their beds at 3:08 a.m.
Nearly 3 million households were left without power by the quake — the latest in an exhausting run of natural disasters for Japan.
It paralyzed normal business on the island, as blackouts cut off water to homes, immobilized trains and airports, causing hundreds of flight cancellations, and shut down phone systems.
In the town of Atsuma, where entire hillsides collapsed, rescuers used small backhoes and shovels to search for survivors under the tons of earth that tumbled down steep mountainsides, burying houses and farm buildings below. The area’s deep green hills were marred by reddish-brown gashes where the soil tore loose under the violent tremors.
Twenty-eight people remained unaccounted for in the town, Atsuma Mayor Shoichiro Miyasaka told public broadcaster NHK.
“We will carry on searching for them,” he said.
Miyasaka said the town had emergency meals for up to 2,000 people and that more than 500 had sought refuge in its emergency shelters.
The landslides ripped through some homes and buried others. Some residents described awakening to find their next-door neighbors gone.
“The entire thing just collapsed,” said one. “It’s unbelievable.”
The island’s only nuclear power plant, which was offline for routine safety checks, temporarily switched to a backup generator to keep its spent fuel cool. Nuclear regulators said there was no sign of abnormal radiation — a concern after a massive quake and tsunami in March 2011 that hit northeast Japan destroyed both external and backup power to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, causing meltdowns.