Sunday, March 20, 2005

KYUSHU, Japan —

Kyushu region

A powerful magnitude 7 earthquake rocked Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu at 10:53 am local time today (0153 UTC), prompting the Japanese Meteorological Agency to issue tsunami warnings for the area. The tsunami warnings were canceled later in the day.

A 75-year-old woman was killed in Fukuoka city by a falling wall. At least 400 people were injured by the quake. Local Fukuoka Airport and high speed bullet trains in the area temporarily suspended operations to look for damage.

According to the agency, the epicenter of the earthquake was in shallow water in the Sea of Japan, off the north coast of Fukuoka Prefecture.

Small aftershocks continued throughout the day, with authorities advising that residents should be prepared for aftershocks of up to magnitude 6.

In the aftermath of the quake, people were quickly alerted to the state of the situation by television reports, telephone, and text-messaging systems.

Fukuoka Building, located in Tenjin, downtown Fukuoka City following the quake. Many stores remained closed.

Interviewed by telephone in Hitoyoshi, well inland from the epicenter of the quake, a local resident noted the severity of the quake was frightening, and left the elderly woman unable to remain seated on a chair. Shutting off gas was the first priority, with the local television coverage providing a quick status update for the situation, followed by an interruption by national emergency network coverage.

A foreign resident of Fukuoka city reported taking refuge under his desk for several minutes as books and ornaments fell from shelves. He prepared to evacuate to high ground in case of a tsunami, but news reports indicated little danger from a tsunami. He also reported that Japanese residents appeared unconcerned by the quake, with many strolling near Momochi beach shortly after the quake, showing little apparent concern.

An old wall surrounding a traditional house in Chuo-ku, Fukuoka crumbled during the earthquake.

In Tenjin, downtown Fukuoka, Fukuoka Building’s windows shattered, and the block was quickly cordoned off. In addition to Fukuoka Building, many other buildings and businesses remained closed to shoppers.

Wikinews contributor Oarih reports that a festive atmosphere pervaded the streets, however, as employees from Nishinihon Shimbun (a major Japanese newspaper) passed out one-page articles on the earthquake and curious onlookers investigated the damaged buildings and sidewalks. Many residents, relieved by the relatively low damage inflicted by the earthquake, started visiting pubs and restaurants at lunch for a celebratory beer. With train and subway services disrupted, queues over 100 people long formed at some Nishitetsu bus stops in Tenjin as dusk approached.

The penetration of modern text-messaging by the Japanese Keitai, the common Japanese cell phone system more prevalent than computer-based email, led to quick status checks on many family members located near the coast around Fukuoka, close to the quake’s epicentre. Wikinews contributor Oarih reports that cell phone service providers were swamped by the spike in use, however, and both voice and text services remained unreliable for much of the day.

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