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Strong earthquake strikes southwest of Tokyo

A strong earthquake jolted Tokyo and surrounding areas early this morning, throwing food and bottles from store shelves, disrupting transport and closing a nuclear plant for safety checks.

The magnitude 6.5 quake rattled houses across the Tokyo region and prompted the suspension of train services and the closure of highways for inspections, but there were no immediate reports of major damage.

"I was sleeping and there was a big jolt right at the beginning, so I leapt out of bed," said Rieko Yoshizaki, 57, in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka prefecture, the focus of the tremor around 150 km (90 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

"I was surprised ... and I hugged my dog."

Public broadcaster NHK said 43 people had been hurt in Tokyo, Shizuoka and other areas but there were no reports of serious injuries. A 5-year-old boy was taken to hospital after a TV fell on his foot.

The area has been hit by heavy rain since Monday and the weather agency warned of possible landslides and flooding.

"Due to the typhoon, there was a lot of rain and the ground is unstable," Japan Meteorological Agency official Yasuo Sekita told a televised news conference. "There may be landslides."

The Japan Meteorological Agency said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.5, revised down from an initially reported 6.6.

The focus of the 5:07 am (2007 GMT Monday) tremor was 20 km (12 miles) below the surface of Suruga Bay in Shizuoka prefecture, the agency said.

TV pictures showed glass bottles shattered on the floor of a convenience store, a TV newsroom with videotapes thrown from shelves, and a temple where tiles had been shaken off the roof and were scattered on the ground.

"There was shaking for around five seconds and then a very big jolt at the end. A guest came running into our office to ask what was going on," said Chohei Murata, a hotel worker in Omaezaki, Shizuoka prefecture.

"A shelf toppled over and files came out, but other than that there's not been much damage."

Japan's Chubu Electric Power Co halted operations at its nuclear plant in Hamaoka, Shizuoka, after two reactors, the 1,137-megawatt No.4 and 1,267-MW No.5 units shut down automatically following the quake.

The trade ministry said an alarm activated for high radioactivity inside the No.5 unit but there was no radioactive impact on the outside environment.

Power was cut to 9,100 homes and the main expressway down the Pacific coast was closed for damage inspection. Many high-speed bullet train services were suspended for safety checks but later resumed operations, NHK said.

A tsunami of up to 60 cm (24 inches) was recorded along the Pacific coast but the tsunami warning was later lifted, NHK said.

Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world's most seismically active areas. The country accounts for about 20 percent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.

In October 2004, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck the Niigata region in northern Japan, killing 65 people and injuring more than 3,000.

That was the deadliest quake since a magnitude 7.3 tremor hit the city of Kobe in 1995, killing more than 6,400.

"It was big enough to wake me but not big enough to push me off the bed. My son and the family rushed down from upstairs and gathered in my room," said Miyako Shiraishi, 93, who lives in Shizuoka.

"It was certainly scary, but not so much compared with the Great Kanto earthquake (in 1923 with magnitude of 7.9). At the time my parents had a store in Tokyo and it was disastrous."


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