UPDATE 5-Strong quake hits off Japan near Fukushima disaster zone

Antoni Slodkowski
Reuters Middle East

* Quake has preliminary magnitude of 7.3 - USGS

* 1-metre high tsunami hits Miyagi prefecture

* No immediate reports of death or injury

* Power stations, refineries report normal operations

TOKYO, Dec 7 (Reuters) - A strong quake centred off

northeastern Japan shook buildings as far away as Tokyo on

Friday and triggered a one-metre tsunami in an area devastated

by last year's Fukushima disaster, but there were no reports of

deaths or serious damage.

The quake had a preliminary magnitude of 7.3, the U.S.

Geological Survey said, and thousands of coastal residents were

ordered to evacuate to higher ground, but the tsunami warning

was lifted two hours after the tremor struck.

The March 2011 earthquake and following tsunami killed

nearly 20,000 people and triggered the world's worst nuclear

crisis in 25 years when the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant was

destroyed, leaking radiation into the sea and air.

Workers at the plant were ordered to move to safety after

Friday's quake. Tokyo Electric Power Co, the operator

of the Fukushima nuclear plant, reported no irregularities at

its nuclear plants.

All but two of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors have been idled

since the Fukushima disaster as the government reviews safety.

The quake measured a "lower 5" in Miyagi prefecture on

Japan's scale of one to seven, meaning there might be some

damage to roads and houses that are less quake resistant.

The scale measures the amount of shaking and in that sense

gives a better idea of possible damage than the magnitude. The

quake registered a 4 in Tokyo

The one-metre tsunami hit at Ishinomaki, in Miyagi, at the

centre of the devastation from the March 2011 disaster. All

Miyagi trains halted operations and Sendai airport, which

was flooded by the tsunami last year, closed its runway.

Five people in the prefecture were slightly injured.

"I was in the centre of the city the very moment the

earthquake struck. I immediately jumped into the car and started

running away towards the mountains. I'm still hiding inside the

car," said Ishinomaki resident Chikako Iwai.

"...I have the radio on and they say the cars are still

stuck in the traffic. I'm planning to stay here for the next

couple of hours."

There are vast areas of Ishinomaki that still have not been

cleaned up since last year's tsunami. Many houses lie in ruins,

full of rubble. Workers by the shore still sort through

thousands of cars that were swamped and destroyed. The cars are

piled up and being taken apart for parts and scrap.


Narita airport outside Tokyo was back in action after a

brief closure for safety checks. There were small tsunamis,

measuring in the centimetres, elsewhere near the epicentre.

Last year's quake, which measured 9.0, triggered fuel-rod

meltdowns at Fukushima, causing radiation leakage, contamination

of food and water and mass evacuations. Much of the area is

still deserted.

The government declared in December that the disaster was

under control.

"Citizens are now escaping to designated evacuation centres

and moving to places on higher ground," office worker Naoki Ara

said in Soma, 30 km (18 miles) from the Fukushima-Daiichi plant.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda cancelled campaigning in Tokyo

ahead of a Dec. 16 election and was on his way back to his

office, but there was no immediate plan to hold a special

cabinet meeting.

Public spending on quake-proofing buildings is a big

election issue.

Japanese were posting photos of their TV screens with

tsunami warnings on Facebook, asking each other whether they're

safe, confirming their whereabouts.

"It shook for a long time here in Tokyo, are you guys all

all right?" posted Eriko Hamada, enquiring about the safety of

her friends.

Phone lines were overloaded and it was difficult to contact

residents of Miyagi.

"Owing to the recent earthquake, phone lines are very busy,

please try again later," the operator said.

The yen rose against the dollar and the euro on the news,

triggering some safe-haven inflows into the Japanese currency.

Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries,

with a tremor occurring at least every five minutes.

Located in the "Ring of Fire" arc of volcanoes and oceanic

trenches partly encircling the Pacific Basin, the country

accounts for about 20 percent of the world's earthquakes of

magnitude 6.0 or greater.

Tokyo, with a population of 12 million, sits on the junction

of four tectonic plates: the Eurasian, North American,

Philippine and Pacific. The sudden bending or breaking of any

plate can trigger an earthquake.