Powerful quake shakes Japan

A powerful earthquake of magnitude 6.7 on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido caused a landslide that engulfed houses, injuring and trapping a number of people and cutting power in several areas.

Two people have been confirmed dead and at least 30 people were missing, Japanese media reported.

A landslide along a long ridge in the rural town of Atsumi could be seen in aerial footage from public broadcaster NHK. Some 10 people had been taken to hospital with injuries, one of them serious, it said.

There were widespread power outages and blocked roads, NHK said.

The quake, which struck at 3.08am on Thursday (local time) posed no tsunami risk, the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said. The US Geological Survey said it struck some 68km southeast of Sapporo, Hokkaido's main city.

The entire island was without power after Hokkaido Electric Power Co said it conducted an emergency shutdown of all its fossil fuel-fired power plants following the quake.

The utility said it wasn't clear when electricity would be restored to 2.95 million households. The trade and industry ministry told the utility to restart the coal-fired Tomato-Atsuma power plant within a few hours, Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters his government had set up a command centre to coordinate relief and rescue. His voice sounding haggard, Abe said saving lives was his government's top priority.

The Tomari Nuclear Power Station, shut since shortly after a massive 2011 earthquake, reported no irregularities and its fuel rods were cooling safely in a pool, operator Hokkaido Electric Power Co told NHK.

A series of smaller shocks, including one with a magnitude of 5.4, followed the initial temblor, the Meteorological Agency said. Agency official Toshiyuki Matsumori, at a early morning news conference, warned residents to take precautions for potential major aftershocks in coming days.

NHK showed a brick wall collapsed and broken glass in a home and quoted local police as reporting some people trapped in collapsed structures.

Japan, situated on the "Ring of Fire" arc of volcanoes and oceanic trenches that partly encircles the Pacific Basin, accounts for about 20 percent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the most powerful ever recorded in Japan, struck under the ocean off the coast of the northern city of Sendai. The quake set off a series of massive tsunami that devastated a wide swathe of the Pacific coastline and killed nearly 20,000.

The tsunami also damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, leading to a series of explosions and meltdowns in the world's worst nuclear disaster for 25 years.

Saturday marked the 95th anniversary of the Great Kanto earthquake, which had a magnitude of 7.9 and killed more than 140,000 people in the Tokyo area. Seismologists have said another such quake could strike the city at any time. 

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