Tokyo (AFP) – A powerful earthquake rocked Japan’s second city of Osaka on Monday, killing three people including a nine-year-old girl and injuring more than 300, according to an official tally.
Television images showed buildings swaying and burst pipes spewing water after the quake, which struck at the height of rush hour in the city of around two million.
However, there was no large-scale destruction and no tsunami warning issued after the earthquake, although commuters were stranded and tens of thousands were left without power.
Among the casualties was a nine-year-old girl who died in the city of Takatsuki north of Osaka, reportedly trapped by a collapsed wall following the 5.3-magnitude quake.
Local officials told AFP that the other two dead were an 80-year-old man — killed by a collapsing wall — and a 84-year-old man trapped under a bookcase in his home.
The Fire and Disaster Management Agency said more than 300 people were injured in total, but many of them suffered minor injuries.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters the government was “working united, with its first priority on saving people’s lives”.
“Gas supply has still been stopped at more than 100,000 houses while water outage continued in large areas,” Abe told his ministers and government officials later in the day.
“I want you to make your utmost effort to restore public transport as well as gas and water supplies,” he added.
And government spokesman Yoshihide Suga cautioned there was a possibility of strong aftershocks.
“Large-scale quakes are likely to happen in the next two to three days,” he told reporters.
Japan sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where many of the world’s earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are recorded.
On March 11, 2011, a devastating magnitude 9.0 quake struck under the Pacific Ocean, and the resulting tsunami caused widespread damage and claimed thousands of lives.
It also sent three reactors into meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant, causing Japan’s worst postwar disaster and the most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
– ‘Strong vertical jolt’-
Local residents described the moment the quake jolted the highly urbanised area at 8:00 am, when platforms would have been heaving with passengers waiting to board their commuter trains.
“The floor moved violently. It was a strong vertical jolt. Nearly all of the dishes fell and shattered on the floor,” said Kaori Iwakiri, a 50-year-old nurse in Moriguchi just north of Osaka city.
“My parents suffered a blackout and they have no water. I plan to take water to them now.”
Despite its relatively low magnitude, the quake caused quite a shake, registering a lower six on the Japanese experiential scale of up to seven — meaning it is hard to stay standing.
Eiji Shibuya, 52, said the tremor reminded him of the devastating 1995 Kobe earthquake, which killed nearly 6,500 people.
“I was stunned. I couldn’t do anything,” he told AFP from Itami, a city near Osaka.
“I was worried about my son as he had just left for his high school. I was relieved when I confirmed he was safe.”
NHK showed footage of firefighters tackling a blaze that ripped through a home north of Osaka.
A number of train services were suspended, including the “shinkansen” bullet train, as multiple smaller aftershocks followed the quake.
Some 80 flights were cancelled, according to NHK, and TV footage showed huge queues of travellers, including many foreign tourists, waiting for taxis as local train services remained suspended in large parts of the region.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority said it had detected no problems at its local atomic power plants, but some companies including Honda said they had suspended operations at local plants.
Kansai Electric said on its website that around 170,000 homes in the Osaka region were briefly left without power.
Shunsuke Kosaka, an Osaka government official, told AFP an evacuation advisory had been issued to 12 households as it was forecast to rain in the region, possibly triggering landslides.
Around 850 people were evacuated to shelters, a local government spokesman told AFP.
Some 40 soldiers were deployed to areas where the water supply was damaged.
Local officials also issued a warning against spreading fake news online after a tweet claiming a zebra was on the loose after the quake went viral.