- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2003

From combined dispatches

TOKYO — The strongest earthquake to hit Japan in more than two years rumbled across the main island yesterday, causing fires and landslides along its northeastern coast and rocking skyscrapers hundreds of miles away in Tokyo. Dozens of people were injured.

The quake registered a preliminary magnitude of 7.0, but its effects were limited, possibly because it was so deep, the nation’s Meteorological Agency said.

The quake was centered 44 miles below the sea floor about 12 miles off the coast of northeastern Miyagi state, the agency said.

Thousands of travelers were stranded as officials suspended rail and road traffic to check for damage.

At least 54 persons were hurt, most by falling household objects and broken glass, said Tomoki Sano, a spokesman for the National Policy Agency in Tokyo. Six injuries were described as serious.

Media reports quoting local officials gave slightly higher estimates of the injured.

Powerful earthquakes also rocked Indonesia and the Philippines yesterday. One person was killed, and 48 houses were damaged when an earthquake of 6.4 magnitude hit the eastern Indonesian island of Morotai early today, the meteorology office said.

Morotai is the northernmost island in the Maluku chain. The quake was centered under the seabed off Northern Sulewesi.

In the Philippines, a 5.4 magnitude tremor rocked the Sulu island group in the south early today, a government seismologist said.

Yesterday’s quake was felt across Japan’s main island of Honshu. It cracked foundations and emptied store shelves in cities near the epicenter and caused skyscrapers to sway in Tokyo, 260 miles away.

Mr. Sano said 31 houses were damaged — all in the northern states of Miyagi, Iwate, Akita and Aomori, where most of the injuries occurred.

The quake set off 19 landslides in the region and caused three fires, one at a substation and two at houses, the police official said. About 35,000 homes lost power for about 45 minutes.

Meteorological Agency official Noritake Nishide described the epicenter as “relatively deep” and said there was no danger of tsunami, powerful waves that can be stirred up by seismic activity. More than 90 aftershocks were recorded yesterday.

The quake was the strongest here since a magnitude 7.3 quake hit southwestern Tottori state in October 2000, injuring more than 130 people.

A magnitude 7.0 quake can cause major damage over a widespread area. More than 6,000 people were killed in the western city of Kobe when a magnitude 7.2 quake struck there in 1995.

Japan is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries and has accordingly adopted tough building standards.

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