Tokyo (AFP) March 12, 2011
A strong 6.7-magnitude earthquake hit Japan's mountainous Niigata prefecture northwest of Tokyo before dawn Saturday, causing landslides and avalanches and destroying some wooden houses.
Kyodo News said there were no immediate reports of casualties and no fresh tsunami alert was issued after the quake, which was followed by an almost equally strong quake in the same area half an hour later.
The quakes struck in the west of the main Honshu island, on the Sea of Japan coast and far from the offshore Pacific Ocean tremor that triggered a mammoth tsunami Friday that is feared to have killed more than 1,000 people.
Police said they had received reports of a landslide and avalanche in Tokamachi and another avalanche in Tsunan town, Kyodo reported.
The news agency also said wooden buildings including a town hall and a garage had reportedly been destroyed and some highways cracked in the village of Sakae in Nagano prefecture.
The first quake in the inland region struck at 4:00 am Saturday (1900 GMT Friday). The focus was in central Niigata but it also shook neighbouring Nagano, and a third quake later followed in the region.
The US Geological Survey put the strength of the first quake at 6.2 and said it hit at a depth of only one kilometre (about half a mile), while the Japanese meteorological agency said it was 10 kilometres deep.
earlier related report
The government mobilised 8,000 troops to help Miyagi and other northeastern areas hard-hit by a massive earthquake and a tsunami that swallowed and destroyed entire neighbourhoods.
An armada of 20 naval destroyers and other ships headed for the devastated Pacific coast area of Honshu island, while some 25 air force jets flew reconnaissance missions over the disaster zone.
Army helicopters were rescuing hundreds stranded at an elementary school in Watari, Miyagi prefecture, while air force choppers pulled about 10 people to safety near Rikuzentakata, Iwate prefecture, Kyodo reported.
The Tokyo and Osaka police forces, Fire and Disaster Management Agency and health ministry also all quickly dispatched medical and rescue teams.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan, wearing an emergency services suit in a national television address, said he had "immediately established an emergency headquarters for response to disaster, with myself as the head".
He was due to take a helicopter flight over the disaster area from 6:00 to 11:00 am Saturday (2100 to 0200 GMT), including to the Fukushima nuclear plant, where residents were evacuated, his top spokesman Yukio Edano said.
"The government will make every possible effort to ensure the safety of the public and keep damage to the minimum possible extent," Kan said after the massive 8.9-magnitude quake struck offshore and triggered a tsunami.
"I ask the public to continue to stay fully vigilant and to keep abreast of TV and radio reports, and I ask everyone to act calmly."
Japan said it was offered help by dozens of countries around the world and Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto said the number of offers was "increasing by the minute", a spokesman said in an email.
Matsumoto, who took office this week, asked US ambassador John Roos for the support of US forces stationed in the country for help in relief efforts.
The United States, which occupied Japan after World War II and is the country's main security ally, has almost 50,000 forces stationed there.
Many US bases are located on the far-southern island of Okinawa, far from the quake zone, while the US Seventh Fleet, with aircraft carrier USS George Washington, is located in a port south of Tokyo.
US President Barack Obama said "the United States stands ready to help the Japanese people in this time of great trial. The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakable."
Obama said Friday that a second US aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, was heading to Japan to provide assistance.
Ambassador Roos said in a statement: "As Americans, tonight our hearts go out to the Japanese people... As I told the foreign minister, the United States and our forces here in Japan stand ready to help."
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