- - Thursday, April 7, 2011

TOKYO | A major aftershock rocked northern Japan just before midnight Thursday, jangling the raw nerves of a nation already devastated by last month’s killer earthquake and tsunami.

The 7.1 magnitude temblor at 11:32 p.m. nearly matched the intensity of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that destroyed the city of Kobe in 1995. Thursday’s quake shook buildings in Tokyo and reportedly was felt across Japan. But there were no reports of major damage or serious injuries.

The epicenter of the quake appeared to be much closer to land in Miyagi province than the 9.0 quake farther out at sea March 11, which triggered tsunamis that left at least 30,000 dead or missing across northern and eastern Japan.

Blaise Plant, a popular foreign musician and longtime resident of Sendai, said he could smell smoke near a shelter where he has been staying since his apartment was destroyed by the March quake. He said residents of Sendai, a major industrial center, ran out into the street and heard sirens blaring.

“So many were in tears, its been a long day,” he wrote on Twitter.

The manager of a FamilyMart convenience store was surprised by an onrush of late-night customers who stripped the shelves of ice, water and instant noodles. Those items were rare after the big March quake.

“Usually, at this time of night, there is almost no one,” manager Takehiko Akagi said.

Journalists staying in Kitakami and Ichinoseki, cities about 50 miles from the coast, said their hotel rooms shook violently, and guests ran down emergency stairwells to get out of the buildings and onto the cold, dark streets. Others in Sendai said their hotel rooms were trashed. Phone lines were down across northern Japan.

Initial warnings of tsunamis up to 3 feet high were later lifted. Most former residents of the northeast coast, devastated by the March tsunami, have been staying in shelters on high ground or away from the sea. Many were asleep in evacuation centers without electricity when the quake hit and were unable to hear warnings on Japanese TV.

Officials are concerned that the new quake may have increased damage to buildings already weakened by the March quake and hundreds of aftershocks.

Officials at the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant reported no immediate sign of new problems caused by the midnight quake. Japan’s nuclear safety agency said workers retreated to a quake-resistant shelter in the complex, and no one was injured.

The operator of two nuclear power plants in Aomori prefecture said the reactors were running on emergency diesel power after the quake knocked out external power. The quake cut off power to two of three reactors at the Onagawa plant in Miyagi province, but the plant operator was redirecting power to them from a third reactor.

The quake hit 25 miles under the water, about 40 miles from Sendai. The epicenter was 70 miles from Fukushima and 205 miles from Tokyo. It was the strongest aftershock since a 7.9 temblor followed the big one March 11.

A Pacific Tsunami Warning Center evaluation of the quake expected no ocean-wide tsunamis but noted that quakes of that strength can cause waves that are destructive locally.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan held an emergency meeting with top staff, and a separate government emergency-response team scrambled shortly after midnight to coordinate firefighters, police and emergency personnel, a government spokesman said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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