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More Than 400 Hurt in Japan Earthquakes

July 26, 2003

YAMOTO, Japan (AP) _ Japanese soldiers brought water and blankets to weary people huddled in school gymnasiums Saturday after three powerful earthquakes rocked rural northern Japan, toppling homes and injuring more than 400 people.

The series of earthquakes knocked out power grids and triggered mudslides in Miyagi prefecture, a rural state about 190 miles northeast of Tokyo. The most serious temblor had a preliminary magnitude of 6.2.

A tremor measuring 5.5 struck seven hours earlier, and one of 5.3 followed several hours later. The government’s meteorological agency reported more than 600 milder aftershocks continuing through the night.

No deaths were reported. National police said 421 people were reported injured _ 27 of them seriously _ with most suffering cuts and bruises from falling objects. At least 1,000 homes were damaged, police said.

Dozens of families taking refuge in a school gymnasium in this small town said their refrigerators and washing machines danced away from walls, cabinets came crashing down and rooms were carpeted with broken glass.

Their tales were silenced periodically by aftershocks.

``I just grabbed my kids and held on tight,″ said Yoshiko Takaki, a young mother camping out with her two toddlers on a futon. ``I thought the whole house was going to fall apart.″

Yamoto was near the epicenter, as evidenced by a house that was broken in half.

Authorities warned that aftershocks and the heavy rains pouring throughout the day could bring waterlogged embankments and hillsides rumbling down.

Takaki and her family were among more than 1,000 people in Miyagi prefecture, or state, forced from their homes by a burst of seismic activity that began shortly after midnight and rattled the region of rice paddies and two-lane roads throughout the day.

Yamoto is in the hardest-hit area of Miyagi, chunks of which were left without power or water for much of the day.

The casualty toll may have been limited by the preparedness of residents, who experienced a magnitude-7 earthquake just two months ago.

Takaki said she removed heavy furniture from her bedroom _ where she took cover with her children Saturday morning _ after the temblor in May, which injured about 150 people.

She said her kitchen was strewn with broken plates and her refrigerator had moved 20 inches from the wall, but her house was still standing.

In the neighboring town of Kanan, two people were pulled alive from a house buried in a mudslide, and authorities braced for forecasts calling for more downpours Sunday.

``The big concerns are the rain and aftershocks,″ said Jun Aizawa, a town official. ``Our top priority now is getting emergency supplies to evacuation centers.″

Three hundred soldiers from Japan’s Self-Defense Force drove through the streets in olive-green trucks and jeeps loaded with water and blankets.

The latest quakes were centered at shallower depths than the one in May _ and were more frightening for some who experienced both.

``It didn’t shake. It was more like, wham! _ right beneath us,″ said Sachie Akama, 51, another Yamoto resident.

Authorities closed roads to check for cracks and landslides. Train service was disrupted on several lines, stranding thousands of passengers.

Shiro Akama, Sachie’s 83-year-old father, stared up from his futon on the floor of the gym. Cuts marked his forehead where a chest of drawers toppled over and hit him.

``At least nothing will fall on me here,″ he said.

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