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Cleanup begins after a powerful earthquake hits northern Japan


Japan is recovering and assessing the damage from a powerful earthquake that struck the country's northeast Wednesday night, killing at least four people and injuring more than 200. NPR's Anthony KUHN has a story from Seoul.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Fukushima resident Shinya Miura and his family were getting ready for bed when public broadcaster NHK put out an earthquake alert.


KUHN: The magnitude 7.4 quake hit at 11:36 p.m. local time. Miura runs a store by the highway in Fukushima's Date city near the quake's epicenter offshore. It's also near the epicenter of the 2011 magnitude 9 quake that left some 20,000 people dead or missing.

SHINYA MIURA: (Speaking Japanese).

KUHN: "My son, who's going into college, and my daughter was traumatized by the 2011 quake," he says. "And they looked frightened when this one began." Miura says that his tableware started to fall to the floor. He and his son tried to hold up their teetering refrigerator while his wife and daughter took cover under a table. A tsunami warning was issued for Fukushima and neighboring Miyagi prefectures, but no big waves came ashore. A bullet train going through those prefectures derailed with scores of passengers aboard, but none were injured. More than 2 million homes were hit by blackouts, but power was restored to most by morning. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says nothing abnormal was found at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which suffered a meltdown in 2011. The quake and tsunami were what killed the most people just over a decade ago. But Shinya Miura says that's not what traumatized him the most.

MIURA: (Speaking Japanese).

KUHN: "My biggest fear was that there would be another tsunami and something would happen to the Fukushima nuclear plant while it's still in an unstable condition," he says. "I still carry that fear, and when I experience an earthquake like this one, suddenly it all comes back." Aftershocks have continued to rock Japan's northeast. Japan Meteorological Agency official Masaki Nakamura told reporters Thursday they could go on for some time.


MASAKI NAKAMURA: (Speaking Japanese).

KUHN: "In areas which have experienced big jolts, please watch out for quakes of up to magnitude 6 on the Japanese scale for a week or so," he says. "Large aftershocks often happen, especially within 2 to 3 days of the quake." Japan is in a seismically active area. Experts say really big quakes strike every 100 or 150 years. Wednesday's quake was not the big one. Nobody can know when that's coming, but Japan is always preparing for it. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.