TOKYO: A powerful 6.6-magnitude quake hit the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido early on Thursday (Sep 6), triggering landslides, bringing down several houses, and killing at least nine people.
Public broadcaster NHK said six of the deaths were in the village of Atsuma, where a massive landslide caused by the quake engulfed homes.
At least 33 people were missing and 130 people were injured following the incident.
No tsunami warning was issued after the relatively shallow quake, which struck 62km southeast of the regional capital Sapporo.
An aftershock measuring 5.3 rocked the area moments later and smaller aftershocks followed throughout the night.
The Japan Meteorological Agency warned of a slight sea level change in coastal areas as a result of the quake.
One of those killed was an 82-year-old man who died after falling down the stairs at his home, Japanese media reported.
At least four landslides were reported after the quake, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said, adding that six homes had collapsed.
"We urge residents in areas hit by strong tremors to heed information on television and radio and act by helping each other," Suga told a press conference.
TV footage shortly after the quake showed people coming out of their houses in the early hours of the morning following the quake.
Hokkaido Electric said 2.95 million homes had lost power after the quake.
"The government will work in unison towards reconstruction while giving the top priority to saving human lives," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters.
Roof tiles and water also covered floors at Hokkaido's main airport, New Chitose Airport, which would be closed for at least Thursday.
Kansai Airport, an important hub for companies exporting semiconductors in western Japan, remained closed due to a powerful typhoon earlier this week.
Abe said officials hope to reopen Kansai Airport for domestic flights on Friday.
Shinkansen bullet trains were halted in some areas of Hokkaido, NHK said.
The Tomari Nuclear Power Station suffered a power outage but was cooling its fuel rods safely with emergency power, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. Operator Hokkaido Electric Power Co reported no radiation irregularities at the plant, which has been shut since shortly after a massive 2011 earthquake, Suga told a news conference.
A fire broke out at a Mitsubishi Steel Mfg Co plant in the city of Muroran after the quake but was mostly extinguished with no injuries, a company official said.
A row of houses could be seen slanting at odd angles, leaning against one another in one town, and many schools were closed, NHK said.
NHK footage showed a crumbled brick wall and broken glass in a home, and quoted police as saying some people were trapped in collapsed structures.
Soldiers were shown looking for damage on a rural road that was blocked by fallen trees.
Officials warned of the risk of further quakes.
"Large quakes often occur, especially within two-three days (of a big one)," said Toshiyuki Matsumori, in charge of monitoring earthquakes and tsunamis at the meteorological agency.
He added the risk of housing collapses and landslides had increased in the area hit by the quake, saying: "We urge residents to pay full attention to seismic activity and rainfall and not to go into dangerous areas."
Japan sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where many of the world's earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are recorded.
In June, a deadly tremor rocked the Osaka region, killing five people and injuring more than 350.
On Mar 11, 2011, a devastating 9.0-magnitude quake struck under the Pacific Ocean, and the resulting tsunami caused widespread damage and claimed thousands of lives.
Japan is still recovering from the worst typhoon to hit the country in 25 years, which struck the western part of the country on Tuesday, claiming at least 11 lives and causing major damage to the region's main airport.