World

Japan's historic Shuri Castle nearly gutted by fire

Police say a fire has broken out at historic Shuri Castle on Japan's southern island of Okinawa, nearly destroying it.

Temple and other structure burn down, third structure nearly destroyed

A fire has nearly destroyed Japan's Shuri Castle, listed as a World Heritage site, on the southern island of Okinawa. (Hitoshi Maeshiro/EPA-EFE)

Fire broke out early Thursday at the historic Shuri Castle on Japan's southern island of Okinawa, nearly destroying it.

According to Okinawa police, the main Seiden temple and a Hokuden structure have burned down. A third structure was nearly destroyed.

Police said firefighters are still battling the fire, and nearby residents were evacuated to safer areas. The cause of the fire is not known.

Footage on NHK national television showed the castle engulfed in orange flames.

The ancient castle is a symbol of Okinawa's cultural heritage from the time of Ryukyu Kingdom that spanned more than 400 years until 1879, when the island was annexed by Japan.

A traditional Ryukyu Kingdom New Year's ceremony at Shuri Castle Jan. 1, 2011. (Hitoshi Maeshiro/EPA)

The castle is also a symbol of Okinawa's struggle and effort to recover from the Second World War. Shuri Castle burned down in 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa near the war's end, in which about 200,000 lives were lost on the island, many of them civilians.

The castle was largely restored in 1992 as a national park and was designated as the UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.

The cause of the fire is still unknown. (Hitoshi Maeshiro/EPA-EFE)

now