Strong earthquake shakes northern Japan

TOKYO - A strong earthquake struck just off the coast of Hokkaido in northern Japan. No tsunami warning was issued.

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The quake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.7 hit about 12:30 p.m. (0330 GMT) Thursday, near Urakawa town on the southern tip of Hokkaido, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. It said the quake's centre was located at a depth of 50 kilometres below the sea surface.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

The lunchtime quake caught many residents by surprise.

"It was pretty strong. It went on about 40 seconds," said Haru Matsutakeya, 45-year-old resident in Hokkaido's capital of Sapporo, about 170 kilometres (100 miles) northwest of the epicenter. Just before the quake struck, an alarm on her cellphone and of several others around her sounded at a centre for disabled people where she works. Matsutakeya rushed to turn off a kerosene stove in the room and stood by silently.

Hiroyuki Kenai, a disaster prevention official at the Urakawa town was having lunch in his office when the quake hit. He told Japan's NHK national television in a telephone interview that officials were still assessing whether there was any damage.

Two nuclear power plants and the Rokkasho reprocessing plant in the quake-hit region were not affected, nuclear safety officials said.

Tohoku "bullet train" service south of the region was temporarily suspended but has since resumed, according to NHK. Some local train lines in Hokkaido were suspended for safety checks, though there were no immediate reports of damage.



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