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Saturday’s quake brings back memories of deadly 2011 disaster

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IWAKI, Fukushima

The stench of alcohol filled the small bar on Sunday as Aoi Hoshino swept up glass from whiskey bottles smashed in a strong earthquake the night before, one appearing to be an aftershock from a devastating quake that hit the Fukushima area in 2011.

The 7.3 magnitude quake struck shortly before midnight Saturday and cracked walls, shattered windows and set off a landslide in Fukushima, the area closest to the epicenter. More than 100 people were injured.

Hoshino, 46, swept broken glass from some 20 shattered whiskey bottles into a garbage bag in her bar on a back street in the city of Iwaki, not far from the quake’s epicenter.

“We were hit by this coronavirus pandemic, and so we were looking forward to reopening our shops, and now this happens,” she said, referring to a locally declared state of emergency that had closed her bar from January and was set to lift on Monday. “It’s just one thing after another.”

A staff member of library tries to restore books after they fell from book shelves by a strong earthquake at Iwaki City library in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture, Japan February 14, 2021.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said the quake was believed to be an aftershock from the magnitude 9.0 quake on March 11, 2011 that set off a tsunami, killing nearly 20,000 people along a wide swath of northeastern Japan, and the Fukushima nuclear accident, the world’s worst in 25 years. The agency warned of aftershocks for several days.

Hoshino said Saturday’s quake brought back frightening memories.

“My body immediately reacted, and I couldn’t stop trembling. My legs were shaking too, but I couldn’t gauge whether it was safer to run out or stay in, so I ended up doing a weird little dance,” she said with a chuckle.

At least 121 people were injured, NHK national television said, including several who suffered fractures, but there were no reported deaths.

The JMA predicted heavy rains in the quake-hit region on Monday, warning that earth may have been weakened by the quake, leaving it prone to landslides.

The 11:07 p.m. quake shook buildings in Tokyo, where it registered a 4, cutting power to hundreds of thousands of buildings across eastern and northeastern Japan. By morning, though, power was restored to virtually all.

Several thousand households remained without water, forcing residents to line up with plastic jugs to receive water from trucks.

Though much of Iwaki appeared as usual, tiles had fallen from the front of at least one building, and the sound of broken glass being swept up echoed from several shops and restaurants.

On the wall of Noboru Endo’s hair salon a hairline crack had opened, in the same place a wider one opened 10 years ago, but otherwise there was little damage.

Endo, 64, said Saturday’s quake did not compare to the one a decade ago, which went on for several minutes and had weeks of frequent aftershocks.

“We’ve all pretty much gone back to life as usual, save a few areas that are still badly affected,” he said of reconstruction efforts in the area.

There was no tsunami this time, and no reports of irregularities at any nuclear plants. NHK reported that about 160 milliliters of water had leaked from a spent fuel pool at the Fukushima Daini reactor but that this presented no danger.

Shinkansen (bullet train) services to much of northern Japan were suspended due to damage along the tracks. Repairs to East Japan Railway Co’s Tohoku Shinkansen line could take around 10 days, national broadcaster NHK reported.

ANA Holdings said on Sunday that it was adding some extra routes and increasing the size of planes on other routes to northern Japan for Sunday and Monday.

Beermakers such as Asahi Group Holdings and Kirin Holdings, which have factories in Fukushima and Sendai, said they were assessing the impact on their facilities. Kirin said its Sendai plant sustained light damage and it was still checking the situation.

Carmakers Toyota and Nissan, though, said none of their plants in the area were affected.

Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world’s most seismically active areas, and Japan accounts for about 20% of the world’s earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.

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