Powerful quake kills four, paralyses Japan’s Hokkaido

Tokyo: At least four people were killed and 33 were missing after a powerful earthquake paralyzed Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido on Thursday, media reported, but the death toll was likely to rise as rescuers searched houses buried by landslides.

The quake, the latest episode in a miserable summer of natural disasters in Japan, knocked out power to all of Hokkaido’s 5.3 million residents.

Public broadcaster NHK said the death toll had doubled to four and that six people were found in cardiopulmonary arrest, a term commonly used in Japan before death is formally confirmed. Another 120 were injured after the 6.7-magnitude quake struck before dawn.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said 25,000 Self-Defense Force troops would be deployed for rescue operations.

Aerial footage showed dozens of landslides exposing barren hillsides near the town of Atsuma in southern Hokkaido, with mounds of reddish earth and toppled trees piled up at the edge of green fields. The collapsed remains of what appeared to be houses or barns were scattered about.

“It came in four big jerks – bang! bang! bang! bang!” one unidentified woman told NHK. “Before we knew it our house was bent and we couldn’t open the door.”

The entire island lost power for the first time since Hokkaido Electric Power Co (9509.T) was created in 1951 when the utility conducted an emergency shutdown of all its fossil fuel-fired power plants after the quake. It said almost 12 hours later power was restored to parts of Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital, and Asahikawa, its second-most populated city.

All trains across the island, which is about the size of Austria, were also halted.

The government said there was damage to Hokkaido Electric’s Tomato-Atsuma plant, which supplies half the electricity to the island’s 2.95 million households. It could take a week to restore power fully to all residents, Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party begins a leadership contest on Friday but said there would be no campaigning through to Sunday. Abe and rival Shigeru Ishiba both canceled campaign media appearances slated for Friday.