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M7.3 quake strikes off northeastern Japan, injuring at least 100

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TOKYO

An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.3 struck off Japan’s northeastern region late Saturday, injuring at least 100 people and causing widespread blackouts, but there are no tsunami threats or abnormalities at nuclear plants.

The quake occurred at 11:07 p.m. with the focus about 55 kilometers below the sea surface off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. The temblor was also felt in Tokyo.

It registered upper 6 on Japan’s seismic intensity scale of 7 in parts of Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures, which were devastated by a catastrophic quake and tsunami nearly 10 years ago that subsequently triggered nuclear meltdowns.

The agency said the quake is the strongest to happen off the country’s northeastern coast since April 7, 2011, and believed to be an aftershock of the massive one that occurred on March 11 of that year.

Following the latest quake, the Japanese government set up a task force and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga headed into his office around 11:28 p.m.

Suga told reporters in the early hours of Sunday no major casualties have been reported. Cabinet members met at 9 a.m. to be briefed on the newest information.

A total of 64 evacuation centers have been set up in Fukushima and about 200 people are taking shelter, according to the Fukushima prefectural government.

East Japan Railway Co said Tohoku shinkansen bullet train services between Nasushiobara Station in Tochigi Prefecture and Morioka Station in Iwate Prefecture have been suspended.

The Yamagata shinkansen also halted services, as did the Akita shinkansen between Morioka and Akita stations.

Top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato warned that quakes of upper 6 on the seismic intensity scale could happen over the next seven days or so.

Several cases of fire were reported in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, local authorities said.

Kato told a press conference that at one point some 950,000 homes were without electricity, as some thermal power plants went offline.

As of 11:30 p.m. the blackout had affected 860,000 homes under the area covered by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc and 90,000 homes under Tohoku Electric Power Co, according to the chief cabinet secretary.

Suga instructed officials to quickly survey the damage from the quake, conduct rescue efforts where necessary, and to relay information to the public in a timely manner.

Horizontal shaking lasted for a few minutes inside a traditional Japanese inn in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, with plates for food scattered in its dining room.

“The initial jolt felt more powerful than the one I experienced in the Great East Japan Earthquake (in 2011),” said 68-year-old Tomoko Kobayashi, who works at the inn. “I wondered if it would end.”

Many residents fled to higher ground for safety in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, fearing that a tsunami may come.

“Even if people say we don’t need to worry about a tsunami, I won’t buy it,” said a 50-year-old male worker. “I learned from my bitter experience 10 years ago and that’s why I evacuated.”

No irregularities have been found at the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear power plants, according to Tokyo Electric Power C0. However, a TEPCO official said later that water used to cool spent fuel rods near the reactors had spilled.

The situation is the same at Japan Atomic Power Co’s inactive Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in the village of Tokai in Ibaraki Prefecture and Tohoku Electric Power’s Onagawa nuclear plant in Miyagi Prefecture, according to their operators.

A resident of Shiogama in Miyagi Prefecture, 76-year-old Mariko Yoshida, said the quake hit just after she went to bed. “I’m scared of aftershocks,” she said, adding, “I live by myself and what am I supposed to do?”