A powerful 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit northeastern Japan on Tuesday, triggering a tsunami along the coast including a one-metre (three-foot) wave that crashed ashore at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant.
National broadcaster NHK urged residents to “flee immediately” to higher ground, reminding viewers to heed the lessons of the “Great East Japan Earthquake”, reports BSS.
A massive undersea quake with a magnitude of 9.0 that hit in March 2011 unleashed a tsunami that left more than 18,500 people dead or missing, and sent three reactors into meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, in one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters.
Local residents look out to sea from higher ground after evacuating their homes following a 6.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami alert in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture
An official from plant operator TEPCO told a news conference that a one-metre wave had hit the coast at the facility, but a spokesman for the company told AFP there were no reports of damage.
Several other waves were recorded elsewhere on the northeastern coast, according to NHK, but they were smaller than initial warnings of waves as high as 3.0 metres.
The biggest, measuring 1.4 metres, hit in the city of Sendai, north of Fukushima, but officials said there were no reports of damage there.
NHK aired rolling coverage on the earthquake, with the words “Tsunami! Flee!” written in white lettering over a bright red band in the middle of the screen. The Meterological Agency lifted its final tsunami warning nearly seven hours after the earthquake struck.
TEPCO earlier reported that a water cooling system at a reactor in the separate Fukushima Daini facility had briefly stopped, in an automatic response, but that it was back up and operating.
“The biggest risk now is a case whereby contaminated water is carried away with the tsunami, which pollutes the environment,” TEPCO’s chief decommissioning officer Naohiro Masuda told reporters in Tokyo of the situation at Fukushima Daiichi.
Authorities issued evacuation advisories to more than 431,000 people, the national fire and disaster management agency said, though it was not immediately known how many actually left their homes.
Residents along the coast heeding the evacuations clogged some roads, with a Fukushima newspaper reporting unusual early morning traffic jams in the small city of Soma.
There were no signs immediate signs of widespread damage, and only a handful of minor injuries were reported, but people along the coast were badly shaken.
“It was huge and lasted so long,” Akemi Anzai, from the city of Minamisoma, north of the Fukushima plant, said of the quake.
“The tsunami siren warning can be heard from the coastline,” she told AFP. “The ground is still shaking. I’m so scared. But my concern is rather the situation at the nuclear plant.”
The United States Geological Survey said the 6.9 magnitude quake, at a shallow depth of 11.3 kilometres (seven miles), struck shortly before 6:00 am (2100 GMT on Monday) in the Pacific ocean off Fukushima. The powerful quake also shook buildings in Tokyo, 230 kilometres to the south.
Japan’s Meteorological Agency, which estimated the earthquake’s magnitude at 7.4, said that the quake could be considered an aftershock from the March 2011 quake. Shinkansen bullet train services were temporarily suspended in the region and Sendai airport closed.
NHK showed four small boats overturned, with one washed ashore at Ohama port. Fishing boats, meanwhile, had rushed out to sea to avoid the direct impact of the tsunami, the Sankei Shimbun said.
NHK showed footage of what appeared to be sea water flowing up a river in Miyagi prefecture though none of it surged beyond the banks. Some evacuees took to Twitter to express their fears.
“I’m at a cultural centre where I took refuge during the previous disaster (in 2011),” one person tweeted. “This reminds me of that.”
Japan sits at the junction of four tectonic plates and experiences a number of relatively violent quakes every year, although high building standards and frequent drills limit the number of casualties.
However, in April two strong quakes hit Kumamoto prefecture, leaving at least 50 dead and causing widespread damage.