A highway bridge in ruins in Ichinoseki, Japan, on Saturday. (Reuters)
Kurihara (Japan), June 14 (Reuters): A powerful earthquake rocked rural northern Japan today, killing at least four people, injuring more than 200 and sparking landslides that sliced mountains, destroyed roads and left residents cut off.
The 7.2 magnitude quake struck at 2343 GMT Friday in Iwate, a sparsely populated, scenic area around 300 km north of Tokyo, where buildings also shook.
More than 160 aftershocks rocked the northern area and officials warned more strong quakes might be in store.
Theres one whole mountain gone. Its all over the road now, said one woman in her 50s, who said she and her husband had been en route to a hot spring resort but had to abandon their car and walk because roads were blocked by a landslide.
TV footage showed mountains sliced by the force of the quake, trees fallen into newly slashed ravines, roads ending abruptly at cliffs and bridges buckled and broken. Homes were shown strewn with scattered and smashed belongings. But experts said the energy released by the quake was far smaller than the magnitude 7.9 earthquake that hit southwestern China on May 12, leaving nearly 87,000 people dead or missing.
One of the people killed was caught in a landslide, chief cabinet secretary Nobutaka Machimura told reporters. A second man was hit by a car after running out of a building and a third was killed by falling rocks at a dam construction site.
A fourth person died when a car was buried under a landslide, a local official said. Two others were rescued and taken to hospital, but another car was still buried, he added.
Five people trapped in a hot-spring resort hit by a landslide were rescued, but another seven were still missing and rescue workers were trying to pick their way through debris to reach them, media reported.
NHK public TV said 202 people were hurt and a total of 10 were missing as aftershocks jolted the region, hampering rescue efforts.
The aftershocks are continuing ... so a very careful response is required, Shinya Izumi, the cabinet minister in charge of disaster response, told a news conference.
But we also need to rescue people as quickly as possible. It is a very tough situation.
Two of the three people missing at a work site in Kurihara after a landslide had been found.