9 killed as magnitude 7 quake shakes northern Japan

More than 200 injured; seven people believed trapped in landslide at hot springs resort; no tsunami danger.

japan earthquake 224 88  (photo credit: AP)
japan earthquake 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
Rescue teams using shovels and buckets tried to dig their way Sunday to seven people believed trapped in a landslide at a hot springs resort destroyed by a deadly earthquake that pounded the mountains of northern Japan, killing at least nine and injuring more than 200. The fire department squads worked as military helicopters buzzed overhead and frequent aftershocks posed the threat of the ground collapsing under their feet. The seven were believed buried when tons of dirt, rocks and mud came crashing down on the hot springs, which is located in a heavily forested mountainous area outside the small city of Kurihara, one of the hardest hit by Saturday's 7.2 quake. Search teams recovered the bodies of six, but believe at least nine more may be missing. News reports put the number of injured at about 260. With several major landslides, at least one bridge collapse and roads buckled by the force of the quake, more than 200 people - many of them near the hot springs - remained stranded Sunday, and were being slowly flown out by helicopter. Train service, water and electricity were restored to most areas. About 2,800 homes in Kurihara city were still without power, however. "It was the worst quake I have ever felt," said Rinji Sato, whose grocery store in this town near the epicenter was a mess of shattered bottles and foods thrown from their shelves. "We were just lucky this didn't hit a big city." Sato described as a sharp vertical jolt followed by a powerful sideways swaying. "It was impossible to stay on your feet." Tohoku University geologist Motoki Kazama said the area was especially vulnerable to landslides because it is of volcanic origin, and contains a large amount of loose ash. Some of the landslides continued to doff the sides of the hills for several hundred yards, he said. "With a quake of this magnitude, it isn't surprising that there was this amount of land movement," he said. The government quickly mobilized troops, police and fire department rescue teams to find and care for the injured, and recover the dead. Access and aftershocks - more than 200 had been felt since the quake - were a major obstacle. The dead included three construction workers who were on a hillside when the morning quake struck. The ground gave way beneath them, and they tumbled about 100 yards to their deaths in the avalanche. Twelve others at the site managed to dig themselves out of the landslide. Another victim ran out of a building in fear and was hit by a passing truck. The 8:43 a.m. quake was centered in the northern prefecture (state) of Iwate, and was located about 5 miles underground. It was felt as far away as Tokyo, 250 miles to the southwest. Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone areas in the world. The most recent major quake in Japan killed more than 6,400 people in the city of Kobe in January 1995. "It was so sudden," Yotsuko Haga, whose farmhouse was left tilting and inhabitable, said of Saturday's quake. "I just tried to escape to the outside, but I could barely stand." Along with hundreds of local police and firefighters, the Defense Ministry dispatched a dozen helicopters and patrol aircraft to the region to conduct flyovers and assess the extent of damage. The government also sent a CH-47 helicopter carrying Disaster Minister Shinya Izumi to the region.