Powerful Japan earthquake leaves two dead and more than 100 injured

A powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake that hit Japan’s northeastern coast late on Wednesday has left two people dead and 107 injured, reviving memories of a devastating tsunami in 2011.

The quake was felt strongly in Tokyo where buildings swayed for more than a minute. NHK said a high-speed bullet train carrying 96 passengers had been derailed, but that there had been no reports of injuries.

The initial quake was followed by a powerful aftershock, and the country’s meteorological agency warned of more shakes in the coming days.

Companies including Toyota, Nissan and chipmaker Renesas were forced to stop operations at factories in the area.

The earthquake struck at 11:36pm local time, triggering a tsunami warning for areas of coastline that include the disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant hit by the magnitude 9.0 quake 11 years ago. That earthquake caused a massive tsunami that killed almost 20,000 people and sparked mass evacuations from around the nuclear plant.

But the Japan Meteorological Agency reported observations of tsunamis of only 20cm or less following Wednesday’s quake, which struck some 60km below sea level. The tsunami alert has been lifted.

Tokyo Electric, which operates the Fukushima Daiichi plant, said it had not detected abnormalities in radioactivity levels. Fire alarms that went off at a building housing one of the reactors at the plant, where decommissioning work is ongoing, proved to be false, the company said.

It added that pumps enabling the cooling of fuel rods at two reactors at the neighbouring Fukushima Daini plant, which had stopped because of the quake, have been restarted.

In the immediate aftermath, emergency services ordered people to stay away from the coast and river mouths, and said people in the immediate vicinity of the sea should seek higher ground.

“There were two shakes. The first one wasn’t that bad but the second one was extremely powerful,” Hiroko Watanabe, a Fukushima resident who runs a small company in the city told the Financial Times shortly after the tremor. “There’s a blackout in the neighbourhood and my house is pitch black. Let’s hope they fix it by tomorrow morning.”

Yumiko Ohashi, a retiree in the city of Sendai in northern Japan, said the shaking had caused a number of items to crash off shelves. Neighbours had started to gather in the street. “I think everyone is OK around here. Unfortunately, we are used to this,” she said.

There were blackouts in central Tokyo and fire engines on the streets with sirens blaring immediately after the earthquake. About 100,000 people in north-east Japan were still without power on Thursday morning, the local utility said.

Fumio Kishida, prime minister, said that the government was “focused on making efforts to understand the situation, providing victims with support together with local authorities and offering information to people”.

The government has set up an emergency response office. Kishida instructed officials to gather information and spare no effort to help the injured and respond to those affected by the quake.

The quake’s magnitude was initially reported at 7.3 and later updated to 7.4.

Authorities said on Thursday that four people had died but revised after two of the deaths were found to have not been caused by the quake.