Strong aftershock rattles disaster-weary Japan

Hotel guests check their mobile phones for earthquake news after they evacuated the building following a 7.1 aftershock in northern Japan.

Hotel guests check their mobile phones for earthquake news after they evacuated the building following a 7.1 aftershock in northern Japan. Photo by The Associated Press.

SENDAI, Japan (AP) — A big aftershock rocked quake-weary Japan late Thursday, rattling nerves as it knocked out power to the northern part of the country and prompted tsunami warnings that were later canceled.

The quake was initially measured at magnitude-7.4, though the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colo., later downgraded it to 7.1. Either way, it was the strongest aftershock since several were recorded on March 11 — the day of the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami that killed as many as 25,000 people and touched off a nuclear crisis last month.

There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or major damage, and the operator of the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant said there was no sign the aftershock had caused new problems there. Workers retreated to a quake-resistant shelter in the complex, with no injuries.

The aftershock around 11:30 p.m. was strong enough to knock items off store shelves and move a large automated teller machine at a FamilyMart convenience store in the major northern industrial center of Sendai. The city is far enough inland that it avoided major tsunami damage, but people there were without gas and electricity for weeks.

Manager Takehiko Akagi said 100 people had showed up within an hour of Thursday’s aftershock and cleared the shelves of ice, water and instant noodles — items that were in short supply after the bigger quake.

“Usually at this time of night, there is almost no one,” said Akagi, whose store had power even though people in nearby neighborhoods did not. A handful of buildings had broken windows and tiles, and some small electrical fires were reported.

In Ichinoseki, which is also inland, buildings shook violently, knocking items from shelves and toppling furniture, but there also appear to be no major damage there. Hotel workers lit candles so guests could find their way around.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency said power plants along the northeastern coast were under control after backup generators kicked in at two — Rokkasho and Higashidori — that lost power.

The aftershock knocked out two of three power lines at the Onagawa nuclear power plant north of Sendai, which has been shut down since the tsunami. One remaining line was supplying power to the plant and radiation monitoring devices detected no abnormalities. The plant’s spent fuel pools briefly lost cooling capacity, but it resumed because a power line was available for electricity.

Officials said the aftershock hit 25 miles under the water and off the coast of Miyagi prefecture. The USGS later downgraded it to 7.1.

Buildings as far away as Tokyo, which was about 205 miles from the epicenter, shook for about a minute.

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