Ja­pan vig­i­lant for ‘Big One’ af­ter pow­er­ful quake


Seis­mol­o­gists Sun­day warned Ja­pan to stay vig­i­lant for the next “Big One” af­ter a pow­er­ful 7.8-mag­ni­tude earth­quake struck off the coast of the quake-prone na­tion, in­jur­ing a dozen peo­ple.

Build­ings swayed for around a minute in Tokyo and its vicin­ity Satur­day night as the quake struck at a re­mote spot in the Pa­cific Ocean 874 kilo­me­ters (542 miles) south of the cap­i­tal, the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey said.

De­spite its power, there was no risk of a tsunami as its epi­cen­ter was a deep 676 kilo­me­ters be­low the Earth’s sur­face, the USGS and the Pa­cific Tsunami Warn­ing Cen­ter said.

Twelve peo­ple were in­jured, in­clud­ing a 56-year-old man who broke his ribs, but no one was killed, an of­fi­cial of the Tokyo Fire Depart­ment and lo­cal me­dia said Sun­day.

Some 400 peo­ple were trapped on the ob­ser­va­tion decks of Tokyo Tower as its el­e­va­tors stopped for more than one hour.

Run­ways at Haneda Air­port in Tokyo were closed for about 30 min­utes, with trains also tem­po­rar­ily halted, while a foot­ball match in the city was briefly suspended.

There were no re­ported prob­lems at any of the re­gion’s moth­balled nu­clear power plants.

A sep­a­rate 6.2-mag­ni­tude quake hit Sun­day morn­ing off the Izu Is­lands south of Tokyo, the USGS said, but there were no re­ports of dam­age or in­juries.

A mas­sive un­der­sea quake in March 2011 sent a tsunami bar­relling into Ja­pan’s north­east coast, killing thou­sands of peo­ple and send­ing three re­ac­tors into melt­down at the Fukushima nu­clear plant.

The nu­clear dis­as­ter, the world’s worst since Ch­er­nobyl, dis­placed tens of thou­sands of peo­ple and ren­dered tracts of land un­in­hab­it­able, pos­si­bly for decades.

Satur­day’s quake was the sec­ond size­able tremor Tokyo has ex­pe­ri­enced in a week, af­ter a much less pow­er­ful — but far shal­lower — earth­quake close to the cap­i­tal on Mon­day.

Some ex­perts warn re­cent quakes and vol­cano erup­tions may be signs that ar­eas near the coun­try are en­ter­ing an ac­tive phase of crustal changes.

“I can say Ja­pan is in an ac­tive stage now,” said Toshiyasu Na­gao, head of Earth­quake Pre­dic­tion Re­search Cen­tre at Tokai Uni­ver­sity.

“Con­sid­er­ing the geo­graphic lo­ca­tion of Ja­pan, we can say the cur­rent ac­tiv­i­ties are rather nor­mal and it was too quiet” be­fore the 2011 jolt, Na­gao told AFP.

“We should be vig­i­lant by know­ing that it is no won­der that an earth­quake size­able enough to af­fect our so­ci­ety can oc­cur any­time in the fu­ture,” he said.

Kazuki Koketsu, pro­fes­sor with the Earth­quake Re­search In­sti­tute at the Uni­ver­sity of Tokyo, said the lat­est tremor was un­likely to be a sign of a po­ten­tial big jolt in the cap­i­tal, which was dev­as­tated by an mas­sive earth­quake in 1923.

“But it is im­por­tant to re­gard it as an op­por­tu­nity to pre­pare for a fu­ture quake,” Koketsu told TV Asahi.

Ja­pan sits at the meet­ing place of four tec­tonic plates and ex­pe­ri­ences around 20 per­cent of the world’s most pow­er­ful earth­quakes ev­ery year.

But rigid build­ing codes and strict en­force­ment mean even pow­er­ful quakes fre­quently do lit­tle dam­age.

On Fri­day a vol­cano in the far south of Ja­pan erupted, spew­ing a huge col­umn of ash high into the sky and forc­ing au­thor­i­ties to evac­u­ate the is­land on which it sits.

The erup­tion caused no in­juries and no dam­age was re­ported, but it was an­other re­minder of the coun­try’s volatile ge­ol­ogy.

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