Series of quakes hit off Japan disaster zone

A strong 6.6-magnitude undersea quake and a series of aftershocks hit off the coast of Japan's Honshu island Saturday, not far from the area ravaged by a huge March quake and tsunami, geologists said.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties and no widespread tsunami warning, although the initial earthquake was followed by five more quakes of magnitude five or above, one of them measuring 6.2.

A file picture taken on April 4, 2011 shows the Tricastin Areva's nuclear power plant in the French southeastern town of Pierrelatte

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said the first, 36.2-kilometre (22.6-mile) deep quake hit 108 kilometres east-south-east of the coastal town of Hachinohe, 574 kilometres from Tokyo, at 4:26 am (1926 GMT Friday).

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said that "no destructive widespread tsunami risk exists based on historical earthquake and tsunami data".

But it said that quakes of this size sometimes generate local tsunamis. "Authorities in the region of the epicentre should be aware of this," the centre said in a statement.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said that there might be some changes in sea levels due to the first earthquake, but that there were no reports of damage or casualties and none was expected, according to the Kyodo news agency.

It said the initial quake jolted Iwate prefecture, an area badly hit by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11 that left almost 20,000 dead or missing and sparked the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

The 6.6-magnitude quake was followed by two smaller magnitude-five tremors within an hour in the same area east of Hachinohe.

The fourth quake struck at 7:08 am (2108 GMT Friday), with a magnitude of 6.2 at a depth of 20.2 kilometres, 137 kilometres east-south-east of Hachinohe. Again, no widespread tsunami warning was issued.

During the next two hours there were two more magnitude-five tremors nearby, the second one with its epicentre only five kilometres deep, the USGS said.

Iwate police confirmed there was little impact from the series of quakes.

"We have received no reports" of damage or injuries, an official at Iwate prefectural police said. "We have also heard municipal authorities have no plans to set up emergency teams today."

Japan, located on the tectonic crossroads known as the "Pacific Ring of Fire" and dotted with volcanoes, is one of the world's most quake-prone countries, registering a fifth of the world's most powerful quakes every year.

Since March's enormous quake and the devastating tsunami it spawned, the country has been rocked by hundreds of powerful aftershocks.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster the tremors set frayed nerves on edge, but for many Japanese they have now become a part of almost daily life.

However, they remain a worry for engineers working to stabilise the Fukushima Daiichi atomic power plant, where the March 11 waves knocked out cooling equipment and sparked nuclear meltdowns.

There were no reports of Saturday's quakes causing any problems at the plant.


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