4 dead after 7.4-magnitude earthquake hits off Japan coast near Fukushima

A powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Fukushima in northern Japan on Wednesday night, smashing furniture, knocking out power and killing four people. A small tsunami reached shore, but the low-risk advisory was lifted by Thursday morning.

Japan Meteorological Agency upgrades magnitude of quake to 7.4, up from previously reported 7.3

Scattered goods are seen at a convenience store in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, Japan, early Thursday, after a powerful 7.4-magnitude quake jolted northeastern Japan. (Kyodo/Reuters)

A powerful 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Fukushima in northeastern Japan on Wednesday evening, smashing furniture, knocking out power and killing four people. A small tsunami reached shore, but the low-risk advisory was lifted by Thursday morning.

The region is part of northern Japan, which was devastated by a deadly 9.0 quake and tsunami 11 years ago that also caused nuclear plant meltdowns, spewing massive radiation that still makes some parts uninhabitable. 

Four people died during the quake and 97 others were injured, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a parliamentary session Thursday morning. The precise cause of the deaths is being investigated, he said.

A man in his 60s in Soma City died after falling from the second floor of his house while trying to evacuate, and a man in his 70s panicked and suffered a heart attack, Kyodo News reported earlier.

The Japan Meteorological Agency early Thursday lifted its low-risk advisory for a tsunami along the coasts of Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures. Tsunami waves of 30 centimetres reached shore in Ishinomaki, about 390 kilometres northeast of Tokyo.

The agency upgraded the magnitude of the quake to 7.4 from the initial 7.3, and the depth from 60 kilometres below the sea to 56 kilometres.

The post-quake damage to car dealership in Koriyama, Japan, is seen on Thursday. (Kyodo/Reuters)

NHK national television footage showed broken walls of a department store building that fell to the ground and shards of windows scattered on the street near the main train station in Fukushima city, about 60 kilometres west from the coastline. Roads were cracked and water poured from underground pipes.

Footage also showed furniture and appliances smashed to the floor at apartments in Fukushima. Merchandise at convenience stores fell from the shelves and scattered on floors. In Yokohama, near Tokyo, an electric pole nearly fell.

No abnormalities reported at nuclear plants

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, which operates the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant where the cooling systems failed after the 2011 disaster, said workers found no abnormalities at the site, which was in the process of being decommissioned.

Furniture and electrical appliances are scattered at an apartment in Fukushima, northeastern Japan, on Wednesday following the earthquake. (Kyodo News/The Associated Press)

Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority said a fire alarm went off at the turbine building of No. 5 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi but there was no actual fire. Water pumps for the spent fuel cooling pool at two of the four reactors at Fukushima Daini briefly stopped, but later resumed operation. Fukushima Daini, which survived the 2011 tsunami, is also set to be decommissioned.

Power restored for most homes

A woman shops in a residential area during a power outage in Koto district in Tokyo on Wednesday. (Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 2.2 million homes were temporarily without electricity in 14 prefectures, including the Tokyo region, but power was restored at most places by the morning, except for about 37,000 homes in the hardest hit Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures, according to the Tohoku Electric Power Co., which services the region.

The quake shook large parts of eastern Japan, including Tokyo, where buildings swayed violently.

East Japan Railway Co. said most of its train services were suspended for safety checks. Some local trains later resumed service.

Many people formed long lines outside of major stations while waiting for trains to resume operation late Wednesday, but trains in Tokyo operated normally Thursday morning.

A Tohoku Shinkansen express train partially derailed between Fukushima and Miyagi due to the quake, but nobody was injured, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said.

Houses and buildings are seen during the power outage in Toshima ward in Tokyo in the early morning hours Thursday. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

He told reporters that the government was assessing the extent of damage and promised to do its utmost for rescue and relief operations.

"Please first take action to save your life," Kishida tweeted.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said authorities were scrambling to assess damage.

"We are doing our utmost in rescue operations and putting people's lives first," he said.

He urged residents in the affected areas to use extra caution for possible major aftershocks for about a week.