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Japan rocked by huge quake.

Byline: By Bill Peters

More than 40,000 people fled their homes today as Japan's north-ern island of Hokkaido was rocked by the strongest earthquake in the world this year.

The quake, which sparked a tidal wave warning, injured 230 people and blacked out 16,000 homes.

The 8.0-magnitude quake cracked roads, capsized fishing boats and caused the roof of a local airport to partially cave in. It was followed by two strong aftershocks and several small tsunami waves.

Public broadcaster NHK reported that at least 236 people were hurt. Most of the injuries were caused by glass from shattered windows and falling objects in homes. Officials said at least two people suffered serious injury, but most of the other injuries reported were minor.

The quake struck at 4.50am local time and was centred in the Pacific about 60 miles off Hokkaido's eastern shore. Japan's Central Meteorological Agency initially estimated the quake's magnitude at 7.8, but later revised that to 8.0.

That would make it the most powerful to hit anywhere in the world this year.

A powerful aftershock of magnitude 7.0 followed shortly after 6am, and another hit at about 8am.

A 61-year-old man cleaning up broken beer bottles on a street immediately after the quake was hit by an oncoming car and died, Hokkaido police said. There were no reports of other quake-related deaths.

"It shook hard and long and I was very frightened," said Eri Takizawa, a city official in Kushiro, which was believed to be hardest hit. "We have small quakes here from time to time, but this was completely different."

She said the city offices were a mess, with papers and books strewn around by the quake. But she added that there was no serious damage.

The government warned residents to avoid coastal areas due to the possibility of tsunami, or ocean waves caused by seismic activity.

Japan's meteorological agency said a tidal wave of about four feet had struck Kushiro, a city of about 200,000. There were no immediate reports of damage from the wave.

Because of the threat of tsunami, aftershocks or the collapse of already damaged buildings, 41,000 people were evacuating their homes to local shelters, according to Kazuhiko Kunii, a spokesman for the National Fire Agency. Hiroaki Tanaka, a Kushiro fire department official, said 50 people had been treated there for bruises and broken bones. 31 people were injured in other towns.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 26, 2003
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