OSAKA – One of the most powerful earthquakes to rock the Kansai region in decades struck Osaka and neighboring prefectures Monday morning, leaving at least three people dead and more than 300 others injured.
The earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.1 and marking a lower 6 on the Japanese intensity scale to 7, hit at 7:58 a.m. and occurred at a depth of about 13 km in the northern part of Osaka Prefecture, the Meteorological Agency said. No tsunami warning was issued.
The quake woke up the Kansai region, both literally and to the fact that the region remains just as vulnerable as other parts of Japan that have been more seismically active since the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, which had a magnitude of 7.3, killed 6,434 people and left Kobe devastated.
Osaka officials were still assessing the damage as of Monday evening.
Rina Miyake, a 9-year-old girl in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, was confirmed dead after being struck when a wall surrounding a swimming pool fell on her as she walked past. Also in the prefecture, Motochika Goto, a man in his 80s from Ibaraki, died after he was crushed by a bookshelf at his home, according to the Osaka Prefectural Government.
In the city of Osaka’s Higashiyodogawa Ward, 80-year-old Minoru Yasui died after being hit by a falling wall, while a number of other people were also feared dead.
Dozens of fires were reported in Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto and Mie prefectures, according to local police and city authorities.
In Takatsuki and Ibaraki, gas supplies to 108,000 locations were interrupted, according to Osaka Gas Co., and a water pipe under a road in Takatsuki burst and flooded the area, according to police.
Kansai Electric Power Co., meanwhile, said its nuclear plants in Fukui Prefecture were operating normally. No abnormalities were reported at the Takahama, Mihama and Oi nuclear plants in the prefecture.
In the city of Osaka, initial fears of widespread panic and chaos had receded by midday after subway services to parts of the city center had been gradually restored.
Life on the streets of the city’s Umeda and Namba districts had largely returned to normal, although some shops posted notices in both Japanese and English announcing they were closed for the day because of the quake.
At Namba Station, groups of foreign and Japanese tourists found transportation to Kansai International Airport greatly curtailed, with the fastest trains suspended and only one, a non-reserved train, in operation.
While bus services from the airport to parts of the Kansai region, including Wakayama and Nara prefectures, were back in partial operation as of mid-afternoon, services to Shikoku and Okayama prefecture remained suspended.
Up to 70 people were seen standing calmly in line at taxi stands in central Osaka’s Umeda Station. Later in the day, the main north-south Midosuji subway line, and other city subway lines, reopened.
“It was a strong quake and reminded me of the 1995 earthquake. It was quite a surprise,” said Yoko Inoue, 38, who was waiting for a taxi near Umeda Station.
Kepco said that there were still some power outages in their service areas. The weather agency issued a warning against landslides, adding that people should be cautious about possible aftershocks for a few days.
Soon after the morning quake, the government set up an emergency task force to gather information about the situation. The government vowed to “do its utmost” to extend disaster-relief efforts and help with reconstruction, as well as provide the public with relevant information.
Learning of Miyake’s death, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, speaking in Tokyo, said the government has instructed the education ministry to re-evaluate nationwide safety standards for block walls lining school commute routes.
As of Monday evening, a total of 846 residents were taking refuge in 395 evacuation centers within Osaka Prefecture, he added.
The top government spokesman also urged residents in the hardest-hit areas to stay calm and be vigilant against aftershocks, which he said could be as strong as a lower 6 on the Japanese scale, over the next week or so.
A senior government official expressed guarded optimism that damage was unlikely to be too widespread, citing what appeared to be the “localized” nature of the quake and swift power recovery.
More than 60 bullet trains were canceled in the morning, and some expressways were also closed. Both Kansai International and Kobe airport temporarily closed but resumed operations after confirming that there was no structural damage to the facilities.
In Osaka Prefecture, power was restored after the quake left about 170,800 homes and buildings without electricity for several hours.
The quake left many commuters stranded at stations or on streets during the morning rush hour after it disrupted shinkansen and other rail operations in western and central Japan.
In a quake with an intensity of lower 6, it is difficult to remain standing and unsecured furniture may move or topple over, according to the meteorological agency.
Although its magnitude was relatively weak, the quake is believed to have triggered high-intensity tremors because of its shallow depth.
It was the latest in a string of quakes over the last few days. A magnitude 4.6 quake hit southern Gunma Prefecture on Sunday, and a magnitude 4.5 temblor struck Chiba Prefecture on Saturday.