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Japan

Three dead as strong quake hits western Japan

Temblor in Osaka area sparks power outage and disrupts traffic

Passengers disembark from a commuter train in Osaka that was forced to stop due to an earthquake on June 18.   © Jiji

OSAKA (Kyodo) -- A strong earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1 hit Osaka and other parts of western Japan on Monday morning, leaving at least three people dead and dozens injured, disrupting rush-hour traffic and causing a major power outage.

The 7:58 a.m. quake occurred at a depth of about 13 kilometers in the northern part of Osaka Prefecture, where it registered lower 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7, the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

It is the largest seismic intensity the western Japan prefecture has registered since the agency started full-fledged observations in 1923. The agency revised the quake's magnitude and depth from the initially announced M5.9 and 10 km.

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 agency.

Although its magnitude was relatively small, the quake is believed to have led to high-intensity tremors because of the shallow epicenter.

A 9-year-old girl in Takatsuki died after a wall several dozens of meters long around a swimming pool collapsed, while a man in his 80s in Osaka's Higashiyodogawa ward was killed after a wall collapsed over him. Another man in his 80s also died in Ibaraki in the Osaka suburbs, according to local police.

A number of injuries and dozens of fires have been reported in Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto and Mie prefectures, according to the local police and city authorities.

Students sit at the playground of an elementary school in Osaka after being evacuated from buildings following the earthquake.   © Kyodo

Disaster management minister Hachiro Okonogi said there are people buried under a collapsed building and authorities are working to confirm the details.

The weather agency warned that a strong quake with a similar size could jolt the Osaka region within a week, but dismissed concerns that Monday's temblor could trigger a megaquake that is projected to occur in the future off western Japan with massive tsunami.

Many commuters in the morning rush hour were left stranded at stations and on streets as the quake disrupted operations of shinkansen bullet train and other railways in western and central Japan.

"I saw the ceiling and the floor undulating, and I could barely stand. I was very scared," said 64-year-old Katsufumi Abe, who was at JR Osaka Station on his way to Kyoto.

More than 60 bullet trains had been canceled as of 11:00 a.m. and some expressways were closed, while Kansai and Kobe airports in the region temporarily closed but resumed operation after confirming no abnormalities to the facilities.

Osaka Gas Co. said it suspended gas supply to 108,000 households in Osaka Prefecture following the quake, while more than 170,000 homes in Osaka and neighboring Hyogo Prefecture are suffering a blackout, Kansai Electric Power Co. said.

A water pipe on a road in Takatsuki burst and flooded the area, according to the police.

No abnormalities were reported at the Takahama, Mihama and Oi nuclear plants in central Japan, according to Kansai Electric.

According to local police and rescuers, two people are trapped in an elevator at a train station in Yamatokoriyama, Nara Prefecture, east of Osaka. A total of 19 cases of people trapped in elevators were reported as a result of the quake, authorities said.

In a 1995 deadly quake in the region, which had a magnitude of 7.3 and recorded 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale, 6,434 people were killed.

Monday's temblor was the latest in a string of quakes over the last few days. A magnitude 4.6 quake hit southern Gunma, north of Tokyo, on Sunday, and a magnitude 4.5 temblor struck Chiba, near Tokyo, on Saturday.

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