A strong earthquake tore up highways, ripped open hillsides and shook down bridges across a swath of rural northern Japan on Saturday morning, killing at least six people. More than 200 were injured, and at least 10 were reported missing.
The deaths and property damage were relatively low for a powerful 7.2-magnitude quake because the tremor was centered in thinly populated Iwate prefecture, a jurisdiction about 190 miles north of Tokyo, experts said.
Still, damage to roads, railways and other infrastructure was extensive. Many communities were cut off from land transportation. The Japanese military dispatched helicopters and uniformed troops to deliver emergency supplies and evacuate the injured.
Authorities cautioned that the number of casualties could increase as rescue workers reach hard-hit remote areas. The quake shook buildings as far away as Tokyo.
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“Our most important task is to save as many lives as possible,” said Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. “We are doing the best we can.”
Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in world. In 1995, a 7.3-magnitude quake in the city of Kobe killed more than 6,400 people.
Since then, tough building codes have substantially improved the capacity of office buildings, apartments and homes to withstand tremors.
About 29,000 people lost power and water, but most service had been restored by late Saturday.
Earthquake experts said the destructive power of Saturday's quake was substantially less than the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that on May 12 struck China, where about 87,000 people died or remain missing.